Book Review: Robert J Shiller ~ Narrative Economics: How stories go viral & drive major economic events (2019)

Shiller is a rock-star economist, Nobel Prize winner with an intellectual fan club. His books, lectures and interviews are eagerly looked forward to and this book is no exception. Unfortunately it’s a let down.

The book reads like a series of extended lecture notes. Very short chapters each one of which is interspersed with highly specific examples. After a period of increasing disillusion I ‘reorganised’ my mind-set and read it as history. So how did he do as a historian of ideas? Not great.

I considered his discussion of ‘Boycotts’*. He jog-trots through various minor examples and rightly identifies moral outrage as a driving motivation. He doesn’t cite the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955-6, a seminal moment in the civil rights movement and one of the most powerful examples in US history.** A woeful omission.

His research material is garnered from obsessive use of searchable words and phrases. Shiller then superimposes those ‘facts’ onto economic situations. This leaves him with the problem of causation or correlation to deal with. He commits the classic Is/Ought fallacy. Something is the case and therefore something else ought to follow.

This book is one for fans.

Notes

*Kindle location 4089ff

** https://www.bing.com/search?q=montgomery+bus+boycott&form=ANSPH1&refig=27928db510b240a99247d264f3eec777&pc=U531&sp=1&qs=SC&pq=%2Comtgomery+bus+&sk=PRES1&sc=8-15&cvid=27928db510b240a99247d264f3eec777

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