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Butterfly Economics A New General Theory Of Social And Economic Behavior


Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

In Hollywood, William Goldman's famous dictum that nobody knows anything is accepted as gospel. Nobody can tell you how much a movie will gross before it's released, no matter how big the stars or advertising budget. Compare the box-office receipts of two summer-of-'99 horror movies, if you have any doubt about this law: The Blair Witch Project, with no stars and a small budget, earned far more money than the very expensive, star-driven The Haunting. Yet, in economics, it's assumed that everything boils down to an engineering calculation: Maintain girders A, B, and C, and the roof will never cave in.

Paul Ormerod, author of The Death of Economics (1994), offers a different idea: "In the current state of scientific knowledge, it is simply not possible to carry out forecasts which are systematically accurate over a period of time." The title Butterfly Economics comes from the idea in chaos theory that a butterfly flapping its wings here could cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. It's not that chaos is guaranteed in economics; it's just that we never know when it'll occur, or what will cause it. "Small changes can have big consequences, and vice versa," Ormerod notes. His arguments range far afield. He talks about crime and family structure, biology, fashion, and many other topics seemingly unrelated to economics. But it comes down to this: No matter how you analyze it, human behavior is surprisingly random. And no economic model can account for all of it at any given time.

Butterfly Economics will, of course, be of most use to those with professional interest in the titular topic (economics, that is, not butterflies). But anyone seeking a good read on the vagaries of life might want to give this one a shot. Any author who can analyze the behavior of ants and Hollywood studio executives in successive breaths deserves a wide audience. --Lou Schuler

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