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The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity Hardcover – 17 Aug 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (17 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691135096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691135090
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 14.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,704,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product description


"[A]n unusual and wildly enjoyable book."--Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics blog

"Take a look at the computer screen your eyes are presently (hopefully) fixated on, not to mention the computer mouse you used in order to click on this posting. Did you ever consider how both were made? Could you make either yourself, and if so, how and where would you acquire the various raw materials and parts in order to create them? If the above questions vex you, the George Mason economics professor Russell Roberts's excellent new novel, The Price of Everything, is for you. Importantly, Roberts does not explain how things are made in this tale as much as he teaches us through a very interesting dialogue between a professor and student that the 'whole system we call a market economy works as well as it does precisely because of how little we have to know.'"--John Tamny,

"Improbable as it might seem, perhaps the most important fact for a voter or politician to know is: No one can make a pencil. That truth is the essence of a novella that is, remarkably, both didactic and romantic. Even more remarkable, its author is an economist. If you read Russell Roberts's The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity you will see the world afresh."--George Will, Newsweek

"This book is the third foray into the world of economic fiction for Roberts. In terms of prose and content, it is also his best effort. . . . In this new book, set on and around the Stanford University campus, Roberts bundles several clever insights about everyday economics with the overriding theme of prosperity and economic growth, and pulls it all off with warmth and plenty of heart."--A.R. Sanderson, Choice

"[T]he best attempt to teach economics through fiction that the world has seen to date."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"The Price of Everything [is] Russ Roberts' latest didactic novel. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. I thought his other fictional attempts to teach economics were decent, but in my opinion this one represents a real step up."--Arnold Kling, EconLog

"[The Price of Everything] is Roberts's third economics novel--the first two were Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism and The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance. They are great introductions to free-market economic theory, especially for those who are easily turned off by numbers and graphs. Wrapping a narrative around economic theories may seem like a peculiar approach to teaching, but didactic novels have a long and noble pedigree."--Clint Witchalls, Spectator

"Don't be put off by the title, you just might not be able to put it down. Its brilliance is in its simplicity, and it's now the first economics book I recommend. Yes, Milton Friedman's Free to Choose and Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom are still the cornerstones, but easy to read? No."--Thomas Oliver, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"I loved the way Roberts wove into the story examples of what Hayek called spontaneous order that even those who believe that order happens only from the top down would have to acknowledge--from dancers moving unpredictably on the dance floor without ever colliding to the thousands of people and bits of specialized knowledge it takes to make a pencil, which nobody can make by himself. This little book deserves an audience as wide as eventually developed for 'Economics in One Lesson.' It conveys similar information in a more nuanced, personal and humanistic way. Nice work."--Alan W. Bock, Orange County Register

"Have you ever wanted to give a friend a book that explains the main virtues of economic freedom in a dramatic way that is accessible to a broad audience? Russell Roberts's latest novel, The Price of Everything, is the book you want. That's right: I said 'latest novel.'"--David R. Henderson, Regulation

"[T]he novel is eminently readable. And if you did not know anything about how the American system works you would come away from reading it better informed."--Bethan Marshall, The Business Economist

"The Price of Everything is a must read for anybody interested in how market capitalism works."--Julie Novak, IPA Review

From the Back Cover

"A remarkable use of parables and dialogues to convey economic intuitions. This should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand this branch of applied philosophy we call economics."--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

"This is a great story about human, social, and economic betterment brought about by the forces of spontaneous coordination. It's also about justice and there's a warm ending. Read and enjoy."--Vernon Smith, Nobel Prize-winning economist

"The Price of Everything illuminates the astonishing economic world we live in. This book could change your life--reading it will give you a sense of wonder about the everyday marvels that are all around us."--Paul Romer, Stanford University

"The Price of Everything is sensationally good fiction and sensationally good economics."--Deirdre N. McCloskey, author of The Bourgeois Virtues

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is full of love, romance and idealism. And its the best book about economics there is. How does Roberts do it? By a clever series of parables with suspense, interest and plot. Get this for anyone starting out in Economics. In fact for anyone starting out in more or less anything.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Price of Everything" seems to have been written to put the case for free trade to American school children. It tries to explain how the Invisible Hand does its work, efficiently allocating resources around the economy. To help us understand the process, we follow two dumb US college kids asking questions of their enthusiastic Economics tutor, who launches into page long rants on the beauty of the free market at the slightest prompting. In the background a protest against a company that has raised its prices during an earthquake is rumbling on, giving the class something topical to discuss.

The book fails as a story - it's just badly written and doesn't emotionally involve you in the main characters, who are strong, compassionate, tee-total, good looking and popular; in a word: unlikeable. The writing is flat and uninteresting to the extent that I found myself skim reading passages through boredom.

It does do a fairly good job of getting its macro-economic message across: prices are set by the interaction of the availability of goods and demand for those goods, and we have not yet found a better system of organising an economy. This is the only message in the book though and it doesn't get developed much further.

So despite sympathising with its arguments I found "The Price of Everything" to be (for me) worthless.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.4 out of 5 stars 73 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding non-technical discussion of equilibrium and the invisible hand 18 Jun. 2013
By Stephen Weinberg - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book on the power of markets, but keep in mind that it leaves out half the story. The book does a great job discussing how order and efficiency can emerge from chaotic individual decisions, and how de-centralized decision making can be expected to vastly outperform centralized planning. However, it leaves out the various economic rationales for government intervention in markets.

I like to assign this book for the last day of my MPA microeconomics class, as a good review of the "why markets are great under perfect competition" half.

I also assign the book, though, because it is incredibly conservative, paying almost no attention to the main rationales for government regulation. I know that I'm a liberal economist who sees market failure as incredibly important, so I assign this book to help balance the course, and to show why economists' preferred solution to market failures is to fix the market, not to replace it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Piece of Didactic Fiction 26 Dec. 2012
By Greg Linster - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You've likely heard of the pop economics genre, but did you know that there is econ-fiction too? Perhaps econ-fiction is a merely a branch of pop economics, but either way, it makes for a great way to teach basic economics to inquiring young (and old) minds alike. And as far as I'm concerned, Russ Roberts (a professor at George Mason University) writes some of the most powerful didactic fiction about economics around.

His book, The Price of Everything, is a parable that engages readers and nudges them to think deeply about the economic concepts that we encounter in our everyday lives. The two main characters in the story are Ramon Fernandez, a budding tennis prodigy who is studying at Stanford, and an economics professor named Ruth Lieber. At one point in the story, Professor Lieber poses the following question: "Don't you think it's strange that in America, the country where the greatest economic revolution in history has taken place, the average citizen has no idea why we're richer?" I would add that it's not only strange, it's very strange. Attempting to answer this question in intelligible and non-dull terms was (I suspect) Roberts' impetus for writing this book.

At the beginning of the story, we learn that an earthquake has just rocked the Bay Area. In the wake of the disaster, Ramon and his girlfriend are on a quest to purchase some flashlights. Ever the champion for social justice, Ramon becomes outraged to find out that Big Box (a fictional mega-store) is selling flashlights at double the price of a Home Depot, which is fresh out of flashlights. While waiting in line to purchase the pricey flashlights at Big Box, Ramon becomes distraught when he sees a poor woman waiting in line who realizes that she can't afford baby food and diapers because of the store's post-disaster price hike. She only has $20, but needs $35 worth of food and diapers. Ramon asks: "How could she have known that Big Box would gouge her with doubled prices?" We then learn that Ramon collects money from other store patrons and is soon using a megaphone in front of the store to rile people up about this perceived injustice.

Not long after this debacle at Big Box, we learn there is a planned protest against Big Box on the Stanford campus. This is where Ramon meets Ruth Lieber, a university provost and economics professor. They chat about the protest and slowly end up developing a relationship that unfolds throughout the rest of the book. The economic lessons contained within the book largely play out through their many conversations.

In one such lesson, Ruth explains to Ramon how free-market price signals allow an economy to operate more efficiently than centrally planned ones. She goes on to elucidate (in a Hayekian vein) about the knowledge problem in economics, which Friedrich Hayek himself put this way: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."

At one point in the parable, Professor Lieber is in the middle of a discussion with Ramon and we get the sense that she's feeling a bit rattled by a questioning Ramon. She collects herself and then shares some profound wisdom about economics by saying the following: "Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is someone who understands the price of everything and the value of nothing. Clever people like to say the same thing about economists, as if we were soulless calculators in green eyeshades, obsessed with prices and money. We're mercenaries, it is said, weighing costs and benefits down to the last penny. But economics is not about prices and money. Economics is about how to get the most out of life."

If there is only one thing to learn from this book (or about economics in general), I believe it is this last point. The beauty of Roberts' writing (and his podcasting) is that his ideas get in your bones. Accordingly, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the dismal science, I mean economics.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great lessons about economics and the story are pretty interesting 2 May 2017
By fhgfgjj - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had to read it for my AP Economics class summer homework. Great lessons about economics and the story are pretty interesting, too.
It's easy to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Would recommend but book can be redundent at points 19 Oct. 2015
By Florene - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The price of everything is a book that describes economic principles via a narrative style. It takes place in Stanford between a professor and his student describing pricing through their real live experience. The book attempts to bring economic principles to life through the narrative style and though it does a great job at merging the two, at times it comes off a unnecessarily long and redundant.
5.0 out of 5 stars Econ 101 16 Oct. 2014
By Rand McGreal - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The worst title ever developed. Other than the title misstep, this is a clear simple explanation of pricing wrapped in a well told story about a Cuban-American tennis player learning about life at college. Rarely do economic books rise to the level of competent storytelling. "The Price of Everything" does. The characters are well drawn and believable. The plot is captivating and is appropriately spiced with emotion. The author leaves plenty of mental space for you to consider the discussions about pricing. This makes for an enjoyable and educational reading experience. A much better title would be, "Prices Talk".
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