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Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and…
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Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution (The Roundtable Series in Behavioral Economics) (edition 2006)

by Samuel Bowles

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In this novel introduction to modern microeconomic theory, Samuel Bowles returns to the classical economists' interest in the wealth and poverty of nations and people, the workings of the institutions of capitalist economies, and the coevolution of individual preferences and the structures of markets, firms, and other institutions. Using recent advances in evolutionary game theory, contract theory, behavioral experiments, and the modeling of dynamic processes, he develops a theory of how economic institutions shape individual behavior, and how institutions evolve due to individual actions, technological change, and chance events. Topics addressed include institutional innovation, social preferences, nonmarket social interactions, social capital, equilibrium unemployment, credit constraints, economic power, generalized increasing returns, disequilibrium outcomes, and path dependency. Each chapter is introduced by empirical puzzles or historical episodes illuminated by the modeling that follows, and the book closes with sets of problems to be solved by readers seeking to improve their mathematical modeling skills. Complementing standard mathematical analysis are agent-based computer simulations of complex evolving systems that are available online so that readers can experiment with the models. Bowles concludes with the time-honored challenge of "getting the rules right," providing an evaluation of markets, states, and communities as contrasting and yet sometimes synergistic structures of governance. Must reading for students and scholars not only in economics but across the behavioral sciences, this engagingly written and compelling exposition of the new microeconomics moves the field beyond the conventional models of prices and markets toward a more accurate and policy-relevant portrayal of human social behavior.… (more)
Member:jedharris
Title:Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution (The Roundtable Series in Behavioral Economics)
Authors:Samuel Bowles
Info:Princeton University Press (2006), Paperback, 608 pages
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Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution by Samuel Bowles

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Samuel Bowles, a heterodox economist known for his long time cooperation with Herb Gintis on various cutting edge works in the field of behavioral economics and related subjects, has made a fantastic synthesis of all the material and conclusions in this area of research in "Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions and Evolution".

As the title promises, Bowles makes extensive use of concepts from socio-evolutionary theory, institutional economics and anthropology, as well as applications from (evolutionary) game theory, to discuss the basics of economic choices, interaction, cooperation, and exchange. It may take a bit of adjusting at first, especially if one is not used to heterodox economics, since his well-written overview starts from very different points than most generic orthodox textbooks do. But it is very rewarding: all the relevant issues are presented in their complexity, nothing is swept under the carpet, and what makes this book in particular commendable is the way in which information from anthropology, psychology and the social sciences is weaven into the 'story'. The contrast with the ridiculous assumptions and the unrealistic or simply false simplistic models of standard neoclassical textbooks (like for example that of Mankiw) is striking.

It must be said that a proper understanding of all the arguments requires familiarity with intermediate level mathematics for economists, and the general level of abstraction and discussion is quite high, so this is not an easy book. Fortunately, this is mitigated somewhat by Bowles' clear writing, and sometimes he also takes the trouble (which unfortunately few economists do) of specifically explaining what the mathematical formulas mean, for people who have difficulty with somewhat advanced equations and the like. In any case, he relies quite correctly more on empirical arguments regarding problems of the common, of evolution of institutions, the workings of altruism, prisoner's dilemmas, and so on than on any kind of math (although these things can be expressed in math, often).
At the end, Bowles provides some problem sets organized by subject as in the book, to allow readers and students to grapple with the issues presented.

Overall, this is probably the best overview specifically about microeconomics currently in existence, and it's a shame that it is not the standard textbook in all economics classes on the subject. Much better than anything Mankiw, Barro etc. have ever produced. ( )
  McCaine | Sep 10, 2007 |
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In this novel introduction to modern microeconomic theory, Samuel Bowles returns to the classical economists' interest in the wealth and poverty of nations and people, the workings of the institutions of capitalist economies, and the coevolution of individual preferences and the structures of markets, firms, and other institutions. Using recent advances in evolutionary game theory, contract theory, behavioral experiments, and the modeling of dynamic processes, he develops a theory of how economic institutions shape individual behavior, and how institutions evolve due to individual actions, technological change, and chance events. Topics addressed include institutional innovation, social preferences, nonmarket social interactions, social capital, equilibrium unemployment, credit constraints, economic power, generalized increasing returns, disequilibrium outcomes, and path dependency. Each chapter is introduced by empirical puzzles or historical episodes illuminated by the modeling that follows, and the book closes with sets of problems to be solved by readers seeking to improve their mathematical modeling skills. Complementing standard mathematical analysis are agent-based computer simulations of complex evolving systems that are available online so that readers can experiment with the models. Bowles concludes with the time-honored challenge of "getting the rules right," providing an evaluation of markets, states, and communities as contrasting and yet sometimes synergistic structures of governance. Must reading for students and scholars not only in economics but across the behavioral sciences, this engagingly written and compelling exposition of the new microeconomics moves the field beyond the conventional models of prices and markets toward a more accurate and policy-relevant portrayal of human social behavior.

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