Ever since Adam Smith, the central teaching of economics has been that free markets provide us with material well-being, as if by an invisible hand. In Phishing for Phools, Nobel Prize-winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller deliver a fundamental challenge to this insight, arguing that markets harm as well as help us.
As long as there is profit to be made, sellers will systematically exploit our psychological weaknesses and our ignorance through manipulation and deception. Rather than being essentially benign and always creating the greater good, markets are inherently filled with tricks and traps and will "phish" us as "phools".
Phishing for Phools therefore strikes a radically new direction in economics based on the intuitive idea that markets both give and take away. Akerlof and Shiller bring this idea to life through dozens of stories that show how phishing affects everyone in almost every walk of life. We spend our money up to the limit and then worry about how to pay the next month's bills. The financial system soars then crashes. We are attracted, more than we know, by advertising. Our political system is distorted by money. We pay too much for gym memberships, cars, houses, and credit cards. Drug companies ingeniously market pharmaceuticals that do us little good and sometimes are downright dangerous.
Phishing for Phools explores the central role of manipulation and deception in fascinating detail in each of these areas and many more. It thereby explains a paradox: why, at a time when we are better off than ever before in history, all too many of us are leading lives of quiet desperation. At the same time, the book tells stories of individuals who have stood against economic trickery - and how it can be reduced through greater knowledge, reform, and regulation.
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The authors explain with a very long list of examples how free market is bound to exploit our weakness.
The book is not well structured in my opinion and the dull narration makes it hard to keep interest.
"Good examples and reasoning."
They make a strong case for why the free market requires regulation to prevent market crashes and the likes.
"Narrator is terrible"
Economics is a bland subject to begin with. The narrator's tone and inability to pace his reading does nothing to help. I listen to audiobooks on similar subjects and I have never come across one I couldn't finish until now. It almost sounds like a computer narration. Don't waste your money or your free credit if you have one.
"Useful for a certain audience, but ..."
As an econ buff and a business law professor, I think I have seen most everything here, slightly different terminology. I have recommended this book to several friends and acquaintances not as versed as I am in this field. I have not all seen these topics all in one place, and at this popular level. But what I call "different terminology," points to gaps here which puzzle me. For example, the classical law of fraud, for centuries, has dealt head-on with minimum boundaries and outlines of factual truthfulness required in arm's-length deals. This law provides an elegant framework that allows for the (widely known) situation that sales people and negotiators play more loosely with matters of mere opinion, versus tighter strictures on claims of fact. This fuzziness is everywhere in our consumer world, and people deserve to be sharply educated about it. But they are not educated about it, in its classical language and concepts, here. This overflight, if you will, is puzzling. Business people, lawyers, and drafters of laws have followed these contours in countless instances, and I see this as basic as arithmetic is to learning and thinking about higher math. On a wider scale, each and every contract is a micro-equilibrium reached between crossing representations of both parties, so there is a sort of "phishing equilibrium" element (without the new term here used). These are fundamental to this field, reenacted at some level in every contract, meaning millions per day. The paucity of treatment here of the basic rules of fraud and legal factual standards is astonishing to me. Yes, indirect allusions are made, but not in any clear way. Similarly, the concept of information asymmetry is at the foundation of understanding these situations, and this gets some mention, but mostly obliquely. This reminds me of a statistics book I read where the author tried to re-name everything, but the new content substantively didn't seem as novel or informative as it claimed to be. (And some print real estate in this book is devoted to how different and special and needed this boo's approach is. I somewhat agree, if reaching a new audience is the aim.) I agree that public policy makers and citizens should know this stuff, and sadly, victimizations large and small are visible all around us in everyday consumer life, not to mention, at the scale of big finance and politics. People who are not bright or well-informed are always with us, in droves. So this book does fill a need, though the particular people being blind-sided in real life are unlikely to read this. (Sadly, as in teaching, the people present and focusing on my best content are the ones who least need it, and the ones drifting off and absent need most urgently to hear what I am saying.) So a lot of this content may wind up as "preaching to the choir," as it was to me. Then again, I make an explicit professional focus on things like complex consumer contracts, so I'm not average. Also, listening to this, my mind would toss up counter-ideas I would like to flesh out about the virtues of market discipline and so on, rather than the curt and fairly rote dismissals here. I do admire that Robert Shiller has repeatedly extolled the praises of finance and free markets, so he gets points for that, and has kept me in his audience, versus the lopsided drivel I hear from both extremes, in books and elsewhere. But as to market discipline: some people are patently so little interested in protecting their own interests that they perhaps deserve the just desserts of their indolence. We really can't afford a government that will pick up after every lazy slob who doesn't care about himself or bettering his sharpness as a dealmaker. If some loll around on the beach and then expect someone to appear to magically protect them ex post, and at no cost, as many Americans seem to, perhaps they are begging for a harsh lesson. I realize, in defense of the authors' approach here, apologists for free markets are not in short supply. I am a great admirer of Robert Shiller in particular and will continue to read his books.
"First class reasoning on marketplace deception"
Shiller And Akerlof argue that the markets select for deception and they are incentivized to do this by flaws and biases in human reasoning. I agree with them. But I'm less optimistic than they are about the efficacy of regulators in counteracting the problems they describe. Reasoning flaws in regulators, ignorance of industry, and a different set of perverse incentives can make regulators do their forms of damage. I'd like to see them turn their attention to how to make regulators perform better.
"Implodes the Keynesian Invisible Hand Myth"
Equilibrium theory that injects reality into how the sophisticated phish the naive in most of not all industries
"More History Than Revelation"
I have great respect for Robert J. Shiller. His Yale lectures gave me greater understanding and entirely new respect and perspective on our financial systems. This was not a bad book. But it was not the book I was expecting. There's a lot of very interesting history on some of the biggest financial scandals of the last century. There's some roughly explained concepts of human and social psychology. All interesting enough. But I felt it was greatly lacking in offering solutions to the problems it outlined. Lots of examples of things that were wrong. Some examples of people that made changes for the good. But as for practical advice for us, the general public for whom the book is supposed to help, it boiled down to... educate yourself.
I guess based on the critical reviews I was expecting a revelation and just got a, albeit interesting but not terribly profound, history lesson.
Also as a technical criticism, the reader's voice was easily tuned out and at times, particularly in the beginning, he sounded almost robotic.
"Could Not Finish the Book"
Much too simplistic. The authors use obvious mistakes as their foils. The authors are very smart; this book is not.
"An OK book, interesting but lacking in places"
This seemed to me like a perfunctory effort from two Nobel Prize-winning economists trying to churn out another book together. I understand and sharesome of the theoretical insights, but they are mostly neither new nor particularly insightful. The political bias is clearly visible, I was a little disappointed.
"The phools are the readers."
The authors are schills for the nanny state. They point out real problems, but their solutons are failed snake oil remedies.
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