The Darwin Economy
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The Darwin Economy

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  193 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Who was the greater economist--Adam Smith or Charles Darwin? The question seems absurd. Darwin, after all, was a naturalist, not an economist. But Robert Frank, "New York Times" economics columnist and best-selling author of "The Economic Naturalist," predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. The reason, Frank...more
ebook, 248 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by Princeton University Press (first published August 11th 2011)
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Greg Linster
A key insight from the work of Adam Smith is that specialization in an economy makes us all better off in absolute terms. While this is undoubtedly true in material terms, it ignores the psychological costs that can come from hyper-specialization. And Smith himself was well aware of these psychological costs. In fact, he believed that the division of labor taken to an extreme can turn people into savage creatures “as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to be”.

Read the rest of...more
The Darwin Economy is an intellectual page-turner. It is one of the few thoughtful challenges to libertarian ideas I have read. The book is structured as a logical argument about positional goods--those things that are only beneficial relative to what others have. For example, running a fast time in a race is only important in relation to the other runners--were you the fastest? Did you win the race? Similarly, many things related to status and power that humans pursue are only valued relative t...more
William Boyle
The fallacies of the libertarian economic philosophy can be very attractive -- but they are still fallacies.
Author Robert H. Frank clearly points out many of the libertarian errors of reasoning...
An excerpt from the book:
-> "The difficult question is how to eliminate wasteful government spending without inflicting even more costly collateral damage. Experience suggests that the 'starve-the-beast' [Grover Norquist] strategy is NOT the answer."
"Starve-the-beast proponents might be likened to a...more
A well-written and persuasive argument for more rational thought in how society approaches the question of free markets vs regulation. The author's recommendation falls squarely on the side of more regulation, based on the concept of maximizing total benefit across all members of society. Too bad no one that makes US policy is likely to read it and take it seriously, since there's no incentive in our political system to actually maximize the total benefit to society over the narrow interests of...more
This book is not perfect. The writing is clear, but it could have been much better with less repetition and more focus. On the other hand, the ideas and vision are so bright that it doesn't really affect the bottom line: I highly recommend that you read this book.

There are no technical difficulties. You won't find a single formula in twelve chapters, and I'm sure that non-economists could reasonably follow the logic of arguments. Hopefully, it will make people think more seriously about their kn...more
Paul McNeil
What I liked best about this book was its central idea- it mixes Darwinian insights with economics in its observation of those situations where the invisible hand doesn't quite get it done. Frank compares these situation to evolutionary arms races, where, for example, male peacocks would be a lot better off, individually and as a species, if all of their tails were half their current size. However, since getting a mate is based on having a bigger tail than your rivals, no one bird would be bette...more
Robert H. Frank é professor de economia em Yale com diversos livros publicados. Nesse ensaio ele compara as descobertas de Darwin sobre seleção natural com as teorias de livre mercado. É sabido que Darwin leu Adam Smith e que foi influenciado pelas ideias de livre mercado, e, como o próprio autor comenta, incluir Darwin no modelo econômico é também incluir Adam Smith. O que poderia ser uma apologia ao livre mercado e a desregulamentação, o livro busca outro caminho quase oposto. Darwin percebeu...more
Zachary Zhao
A very intellectual book with some truly original and thought-provoking ideas about how individual interests and collective interests sometimes diverge and how such divergence could lead to wasteful outcomes especially in a competitive environment. It is definitely interesting to see the author pitting Adam Smith against Darwin Charles and arguing that Adam Smith's Invisible Hand Principle could be viewed as a special case of Darwin Charles more general Natural Selection/Sexual Selection hypothe...more
I heartily recommend this book to my politically inclined friends--on all ends of the spectrum. I would love to give it five stars, because of he insightful ideas it espouses, but I found it a bit repetitious, so I had to back off.

Essentially, the author uses arguments of economic efficiency to show that a true libertarian society is NOT the one that the rich should prefer. On the contrary, societies that allow for some measure of wealth redistribution are those that everyone would choose, given...more
I found it difficult to determine what point the author, a Cornell University economist, was trying to make. I listened to an audio version from, which may have added to difficulty, but I doubt the format had much to do with the difficulty. Some major themes have stuck in my mind, however. First, the idea that the best outcome for an individual is not necessarily the best for the group or society. This idea is the one that Frank ascribes to Charles Darwin, as it is an idea that has c...more
The author writes this book to refute libertarian ideas. Since I am partial to libertarian ideas, I did not enjoy this author's bias. However, I did find some arguments I could agree with.

Frank claims that Charles Darwin's understanding of competition is more applicable to economics than Adam Smith's. Darwin understood that some adaptations that are good for the individual are bad for the species or society. E.g. the arms race resulting in large antlers on bull elk. This helps win a battle for...more
This COULD have been a really good book, because the basic ideas are very interesting, but the writing was so biassed that I kept getting completely turned off and non-receptive. For example, Frank repeatedly criticizes libertarians, Republicans, and other conservatives for their rhetoric (and I must agree with such valid criticisms) as well as their ideas, but then he says, "The logic they offer in support of their position would be comical if the stakes were not so high." I happen to agree wit...more
There are some aspects of this book I really did not like: most notably, the insistence on the "silver bullet" insight that ranking are what matters most to economic agents. While of course I do agree that this is the case in many instances, in many others which are economically relevant the absolute distance in the ranking does matter (which may work either reinforcing or weakening Frank's line of argument, depending on context). More in general, the fervour with which Frank insists on the prim...more
Clarence Cromwell
This is a brilliant book.

Robert Frank is an economist who explains that individual interests and group interests are often different; Unlike followers of Adam Smith, Frank argues that competition is often harmful, because it results in a kind of one-upmanship where everyone loses.

Example: Hockey players will take off their helmets so that they can see and hear better, and when one player removes a helmet, everyone else must. But if you give players a chance to pass a rule requiring helmets, t...more
Brock Wilson
I enjoyed the main point of the book. Rational people should allow governments to tax or regulate undesirable activities so that taxes can be lowered on desirable activities. Doing so will result in a net benefit for a society. Many of the activities that should be taxed more heavily are not taxed at all.

The author spent too much time arguing against libertarians. A big problem in the states but not as much in Canada where we still don't have taxes on a lot of the negative activities. The point...more
I think the moment when I started thinking about feeling bad for the libertarians who might read this book is when the author used two citizens, "Rand" and "Paul," in a thought experiment illustrating the efficient provision of public goods.

But then I remembered that if it weren't for the majority of the Republicans and libertarians on Capitol Hill being a bunch of assholes the whole American democratic process would run a lot smoother and I wouldn't have heard the words "climate change" and "my...more
Fred Kohn
This book refutes key ideas of libertarian thought. What I found quite refreshing is that it doesn't do so through the usual method of citing statistics or studies (which authors carefully weed to make their points), but through a series of intriguing thought experiments. Frank's key insight is that even perfectly competitive markets can lead to very undesirable outcomes because what benefits the individual is often detrimental to the group, just as in biology runaway sexual selection has give p...more
A late-career repetition of previous academic work, combined with a grab bag of grievances with the cartoonish American right (right down to critiquing comments on conservative blogs). I find Frank's economic centrism very attractive, and I'm intrigued enough to dig into his back catalogue, but I felt like this book was pretty shallow on the whole and didn't really hang together in a coherent way.
Joe Leigh
It has some very interesting ideas--I find myself referencing the key concepts from time to time. With this said, the book is way too politically charged. I think it would be better if the author let the readers draw their own parallels to government etc based on the core arguments. Overall not a really bad book, just not in line with some of my political views.
Cognitive-Behavioral biases and economy.
How competition works.
David Wilkins
Excellent description of why so many economic assumptions are false. Explains why cost/benefit analyses are the best way to make communal decisions, but in the US both the left and the right are against them. Thus, American cities cannot implement London's excellent solution to traffic congestion.
Zijun Chan
A really good book. It brought the concept of positional wealth to my mind. And it ended with a nice quote.
Your on your own society explained.

Excellent book with good arguments and easy to read. Good introduction to some elements of economics. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in tax policy in the modern American economy.
His arguments are compelling. They're also redundant. This book could have been written in half the space.
Prasanth Manthena
Very good thesis but the book seems disjointed at times. I think his point about market economies are strong
Mike Murray
Oct 01, 2011 Mike Murray marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meh. Some interesting ideas, but too bogged down in jargon
A great read-I must say it is very thought provoking!
Lisa Sweeney
Recommended by Jake.
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Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and a Professor of Economics at Cornell University's S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management. He contributes to the "Economic View" column, which appears every fifth Sunday in The New York Times.
More about Robert H. Frank...
The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us Luxury Fever: Weighing the Cost of Excess The Return of The Economic Naturalist: How Economics Helps Make Sense of Your World

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