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How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities Paperback – 26 Aug 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141036516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141036519
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A very good history of economic thought (Economist)

How Markets Fail offers a brilliant intellectual framework . . . fine work (New York Times)

An essential, grittily intellectual, yet compelling guide to the financial debacle of 2009 (Geordie Greig, Evening Standard)

A powerful argument . . . Cassidy makes a compelling case that a return to hands-off economics would be a disaster (BusinessWeek)

This book is a well constructed, thoughtful and cogent account of how capitalism evolved to its current form (Telegraph Books of the Year recommendation)

John Cassidy ... describe[s] that mix of insight and madness that brought the world's system to its knees (FT, Book of the Year recommendation)

Anyone who enjoys a good read can safely embark on this tour with Cassidy as their guide . . . Like his colleague Malcolm Gladwell [at the New Yorker], Cassidy is able to lead us with beguiling lucidity through unfamiliar territory (New Statesman)

About the Author

John Cassidy has covered economics and finance at The New Yorker magazine since 1995, writing on topics ranging from Alan Greenspan to the Iraqi oil industry and English journalism. He is also now a Contributing Editor at Portfolio where he writes the monthly Economics column.

Two of his articles have been nominated for National Magazine Awards: an essay on Karl Marx, which appeared in October, 1997, and an account of the death of the British weapons scientist David Kelly, which was published in December, 2003. He has previously written for Sunday Times in as well as the New York Post, where he edited the Business section and then served as the deputy editor.

In 2002, Cassidy published his first book, Dot.Con. He lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There has been almost as much comment and media analysis of the credit crisis as there were panicked trades in the markets at its peak. Most comment has taken an aggressive or defensive position around the role of bankers. John Cassidy's outstanding book is a dispassionate but engaging look at the historical, economic, sociological and academic context of the sub-prime crash and its terrible aftermath.

Cassidy does have a message, eloquently argued: the vast majority of economists, bankers and policy makers of the last three decades have been blindly irresponsible in their wholehearted espousal of the unfettered free market. Indeed, he refers to the ideologies of the Chicago school as "Utopian Economics". His arguments are deep, broad and lucid. He shows, quite irrefutably, how the perfect market, enlightened self interest, full information and other such axioms of the Friedman revolution are disastrously simplistic. The evidence of huge areas of hidden information, beauty contest group psychology and the paradoxical force of game theory outcomes is undeniable. The underlying force of markets, "rational self interest" often or even usually works against the mathematics of supply, demand and perfect information. His analysis of the reality of how bubbles happen and how disturbing they are for traditional economic theories of the market is explosively enlightening.

"How Markets Fail" also looks at the agents behind the disaster of the last two years. Cassidy is especially unforgiving of the once God-like Alan Greenspan. The old Fed Chairman's explanation for his arrogant irresponsibility in allowing - indeed encouraging - two major speculative bubbles (dot-com and sub-prime) to explode unchecked was a pathetic "The problem is..
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Format: Hardcover
Amid the plethora of books about the credit-crunch (which has become a boom industry in itself), this account stands out for providing the context in which these events occurred. While many others have dealt with the immediate causes of the crisis and its aftermath, Cassidy takes the time to provide a short history of the economic theories that inform these processes - without which any explanation is inadequate.

Running through 200 years of economic theory might not enliven the spirits, but it's a measure of Cassidy's achievement that he makes it both informative and entertaining. And it is only through understanding how beliefs about the free market and economic efficiency serve certain interests, and feed into an ideology that uses circular reasoning to justify its relevance, that the contradictions that have imploded so spectacularly can really be understood - and how a theory which emphasises transparency could result in a system that depends on the kind of asymmetries of information and off-balance-sheet accounting that ensures that markets are so opaque and impenetrable that even the bank's own managers don't understand them.

From myths such as the Efficient Market Hypothesis and the rational individual, to the Prisoner's Dilemma (which ensures that we are condemned to act against our own best interests), Cassidy provides a balanced and thought provoking overview of market behaviour, before rounding it off with an explanation of the current crisis.

An essential read for anyone wishing to grasp the fundamental processes at work.
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By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 27 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Cassidy explains brilliantly the rise and fall of the free market ideology. Its application ended in the most sweeping extension of State intervention in the economies all over the world since the 1930s. The recent financial panic could have brought down any number of financial firms worldwide, which meant the total collapse of capitalism.

The Free Market and its ideologues
The `free market' ideology (laissez-faire) is an all-compassing way of thinking about the world and about man (the perfect homo aeconomicus) with markets as divine efficient and self-regulating processes.
Its prominent ideologues were A. Smith (the invisible hand of self-interest), F. Hayek (a system of price signals), V. Pareto (an efficient economy), K. Arrow and G. Debreu (the combination of efficiency and social equity), M. Friedman (monetarism), E. Fama (efficient stock markets) and R. Lucas (governmental intervention in the economy is counter-productive).

Criticism (no market nirvana)
For its critics, a free market economy is utopian, based on illusions of stability (bubbles are not aberrations), of rational irrationalities (124 banking crises in the last 40 years) and of predictability (markets don't follow regular patterns).
The prominent critics were J.M. Keynes (governmental intervention is needed in recessions), A. Pigou (no spontaneous coordination of private and social interests), F. Bator (oligo (mono)-polies destroy free markets, no markets for public goods), G. Akerlof and J. Stiglitz (market prices don't reveal all information) and H. Minsky (free market capitalism is inherently unstable).
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