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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary perspectives on economics
This is a lively, entertaining, useful and uneven work. Author Michael Shermer ranges over an array of disciplines to synthesize current understanding of the intersection of economics and evolution. He defines and debunks homo economicus, or the economic man, a theoretical creation who behaves in a purely rational fashion. Shermer weaves personal experiences with...
Published on 7 July 2009 by Rolf Dobelli

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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Look at Scientific Arguments in Favor of Libertarian Governance
I don't recall a book that relies so heavily on scientific studies from so many fields to make a case for free markets with minimal government intervention. If you are not familiar with the latest in brain science and evolutionary biology, The Mind of the Market is a good review.

The main argument falters because clearly Mr. Shermer is doing his best to justify...
Published on 8 April 2008 by Donald Mitchell


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary perspectives on economics, 7 July 2009
By 
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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This is a lively, entertaining, useful and uneven work. Author Michael Shermer ranges over an array of disciplines to synthesize current understanding of the intersection of economics and evolution. He defines and debunks homo economicus, or the economic man, a theoretical creation who behaves in a purely rational fashion. Shermer weaves personal experiences with interviews of researchers, summaries of classic texts, and contemporary experiments and observations of such well-known businesses cases as the Enron debacle. Readers with knowledge of behavioral economics or negotiation will find some familiar material in this book. For others, Shermer's connections among biology, psychology, economics and ethics will be enlightening. He overreaches at times, making sweeping claims for the power of the market, but you don't have to agree with every conclusion to enjoy the work. getAbstract recommends this to readers who are interested in behavioral economics, self-knowledge or the machinations of markets.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Look at Scientific Arguments in Favor of Libertarian Governance, 8 April 2008
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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I don't recall a book that relies so heavily on scientific studies from so many fields to make a case for free markets with minimal government intervention. If you are not familiar with the latest in brain science and evolutionary biology, The Mind of the Market is a good review.

The main argument falters because clearly Mr. Shermer is doing his best to justify what he already believes. He draws the conclusion from the evidence that makes the best case for his ideas, rather than trying to sort out the good and the bad and the ugly from one another.

As an example, he hasn't seen a nongovernmental monopoly he doesn't like . . . and doesn't bother to mention the benefits that customers have gained when such monopolies have ended. To make his case for monopolies resulting from aggressive competition, he has to argue that only near-term dollars and cents for customers count . . . while leaving out the harm from the dislocations that occur in non-economic terms and the potential longer-term benefits of having more competitors. This suggests that predatory pricing to eliminate competitors is a jim-dandy idea even if it leads to artificially higher prices later on after there are no competitors left.

He also feels that biology is destiny. Apparently, we should not expect to behave better than what our bodies encourage. But if that were true, then almost everyone who can be addicted would be addicted . . . and would simply focus on supplying and abusing the addiction. But clearly, most people don't do that.

It's fun to read what he has to say . . . but don't take it seriously.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Evolution Is Sound Economics, 11 Aug 2008
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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Michael Shermer's "The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics" is yet another insightful, and provocative book from him, making the best, most persuasive case why accepting evolutionary theory ought to be sound economics for my fellow conservatives. Shermer persuasively argues that Charles Darwin and Adam Smith were essentially looking at the same phenomena, observing that evolution via natural selection is basically nature's "marketplace" operating under laissez-faire principles as expressed in Smith's concept of the "Invisible Hand". Shermer makes his arguments primarily from biology and psychology, without relying much on economics, and yet they are quite convincing. Indeed conservatives ought to be delighted with his cogently argued reasons why government intervention into national economies is often doomed to failure, arguing instead that natural processes inherent in the marketplace are often the only - and best - remedy for economic malaise. He also explains why "Social Darwinism" is a gross distortion of Darwin's thought, misapplied to social engineering and economics, and that both Earth's biosphere and the market are highly organized complex systems that have arisen from simpler ones, giving the false illusion of "being designed" by some external, omnipresent "Intelligent Designer". Without question, "The Mind of the Market" is a most remarkable book which deserves ample readership from the broad body politic, from both liberals and conservatives.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bad argument can still result in a good read, 8 Sep 2010
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In 2010 it's been 151 years (and counting) since Darwin and neo-Darwinism since have failed to generate a theory of culture remotely to the level that Darwin and Wallace (both naturalists) established with their theory of evolution. The most modern sociobiological attempt to provide a Darwinian understanding of culture (which is quite different from taking on culture in it's fullest sense)is by reference to an evolved psychology (Evolutionary Psychology) and this is one approach that Shermer harnesses in trying to convince the reader that economic culture is a Darwinian process and that the economy of human society is the same as the economy of nature.

I'll repeat, there is no general theory of culture in the way we have a theory of evolution which binds the biological and botanical species in the organic setting of nature. So Shermer has to pull strands together and 'create' an argument which is largely philosophical, shallow theoretically and is rooted on a dogmatic attempt to construct the illusion of natural selection in the economic realm even though natural selection was a process metaphorised from 'artificial selection' (human design) which was the focus of Darwin's first chapter of 'Origin'.

Shermer calls his approach 'integrative science' and from the editor of Skeptic magazine he should really have had his Skeptic head on rather than his Shermer one on. This book never breaks free from narrative because there is no underlying structure to hold it together and the reader is subject to the daily whims and moods of the writer, which is always a danger for books of this kind and that's why an editor can bring a much needed second opinion. I'll give you an example as to the whimsy of Shermer's narrative.

[p.8] 'The evolution of our material economy proceeds in an analogous manner through the production and selection of numerous permutations of countless products.'

Shermer quite rightly points out that evolution (and this includes natural selection as one mechanism) 'is unconscious and nonprescient - it cannot look forward to anticipate what changes are going to be needed for survival.' [p.8]

Immediately this should raise alarm bells because the human system of economy is globalising through planned processes and is 'man'aged in a way that the natural economy is not. In the UK alone without governmental stimulus packages, loan guarantees, incentive schemes and 200 billion in quantitative easing (just printing money) completely undermine the argument Shermer is trying to make.

He is aware that there are 'top-down' processes at work through 'the intelligent design' of Government and this is a point Niall Ferguson makes in his 'Ascent of Money' book and similar attempts to Darwinise in explanation the financial history and present of the human economy. The planning, governmental stimulus and most evidently when we just create money through the alchemical quantitative easing, undermine Darwinian arguments and make such attempts, well, look a little desperate and ultimately lazy.

Then on page 42, after a narrative journey Shermer then feels he has done a good enough job convincing the reader to deliver a knock-out blow:
'Adam Smith showed how national wealth and social harmony were unintended consequences of individual competition among people. Charles Darwin showed how complex design and ecological balance were unintended consequences of individual competition among organisms. The artificial economy mirrors the natural economy.'

Mirrors.

So from analogy we now have the assertion that the artificial, managed, planned economy of humankind mirrors the natural economy. Shermer is clearly right of centre on political economy and it penetrates almost every page. This is not an objective evaluation of culture and economic culture but an attempt to shoehorn (he calls it integrative science) two beliefs he holds dear: Darwinism and free market economics. When it comes to understanding culture however, these two approaches are deeply flawed. There is a fluidity to the market but the essential managing influence of governments tempors the 'free' in free markets. Moreover, Shermer only attributes top-down to governments when there are many times more lobbyists and special interests trying to shape the process of legislation which makes the very notion of 'government' deeply porous. Even more so if we take the US economy and the character/nature/culture of political funding. Shermer's lack of reference to slavery, indentured labour and low-wage labour as derivative (not just an unintended consequence) of free market capitalism only adds to this very personal view of how the economy works and by framing it as 'integrative science' he weakens the science brand.

The big differences between the market economy and the economy of nature concerns the notion of efficiency and sustainability/surplus. Shermer never gets to grips with either of these two issues and the book is poorer for it. Having said that poorly argued books can still be a good read and I would recommend this book. It makes it all the more important that the social sciences generate their 'theory of everything' in a general theory of culture.

I'll leave you with one more 'stretch' that Shermer makes in this book. The connection between the artificial economy and economy of nature has went from 'analogy' to 'mirrors' just by the ebb and flow of Shermer's narrative, nothing more. On p.270 at the 'Notes' section Shermer quotes a section from Adam Smith's invisible hand which includes reference to 'the rules of justice', 'system of policy' and 'freest competition'.

1. If nature is 'tooth and claw' then the reference to 'rules of justice' is not applicable to he nature setting.
2. With no foresight, there is no need to plan and that is what we find with the evolutionary process, not just a lack of need for policy, but there is no directed policy in nature. No written laws, rules, policies and procedures shaping action and thought like there is in the artificial (non natural) economies of man, of which there are several systems of economy, changing over time in a way the imperatives of evolution do not.
3. Adam Smith would have to have rewrite core aspects of how he thought capitalism would work if he were here today. The amount of surplus generated by this system would be beyond his comprehension and also the measures that the hyper rich would go to in protecting their wealth through tax avoidance, off-shore accountancy and other 'creative accounting' measures. Every penny that is locked into any one of these measures is not a free penny, it is the prisoner of a mind that uses money for the exact opposite purpose for which it was designed, not to spend but to store, which is different from saving for a purpose. I've already mentioned the influence of special interests and 'big business' and how they undermine the notion of freest competition and this can be seen by the way Western economies and nations can set the terms to a degree with emerging economies. So while the notion of a free market can imply equal opportunity for all the reality is quite different.

And how does Shermer's viewpoint summarise this ill-fitting comparison with the economy of nature?
[p.279] "Read 'animal' for 'man' and 'population' for 'people', and we have a perfect description of natural selection in nature."

Analogy.
Mirrors.
Perfect.

It's a poorly reasoned book which tells the world of knowledge how short neo-Darwinism is in accounting for culture's complexity but it's still a book worth reading all the same.
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The Mind of the Market: How Biology and Psychology Shape Our Economic Lives
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