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From Economic Man to Economic System


  • Page extent: 198 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.46 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521509978)

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

$113.00 (C)

This book’s essays discuss human behavior and the institutions of capitalism. The essays are non-technical and are written so as to be accessible to students of all disciplines and to all other persons interested in capitalism and in economic behavior. They often present unconventional views of the topics they discuss. Those containing unconventional views discuss self-interested behavior, selfish gene theory, the meaning and social function of private ownership, the externality problem, the nature of the firm, and the rise of capitalism. The essays are not meant to be a textbook, but they offer a useful supplementary reading source for courses in business, economics, and law that deal with human behavior in the marketplace and with capitalism, ownership, markets, and firms.


1. Where economic man dwells; 2. Economic man's escape from Mathus's population trap; 3. Protecting you from yourself; 4. Rescuing economic man from the selfish gene; 5. Crossing disciplinary boundaries; 6. The late arrival of capitalism; 7. Ownership and exchange; 8. Reinterpreting the externality problem; 9. Firms and households as substitutes; 10. The contrast between firms and political parties; 11. The public corporation: its ownership and control; 12. Public policy's indirect effects on the control, organization, and importance of firms.


“This lovely set of essays provides a small intellectual feast. The readings are a delight for the thoughtful economist and should be an excellent supplement for any number of undergraduate or graduate economic courses or law school offerings. Demsetz is an old-fashioned economist in the best sense of the term. He writes and thinks about important economic questions in the tradition of Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Knight, Viner, and Coase. His is not the economics of sterile equations and diagrams but the lively engagement with fundamental questions such as the root of property rights, the delayed emergence of capitalism; and declining family size. He demonstrates the power of simple straightforward economic instincts and principles when wielded by a sharp mind aided by a fluid pen to enlighten important social questions.” – Lloyd Cohen, George Mason University

“Harold Demsetz’s contributions to economics are well known for their simple originality and have laid important foundations in many areas of economics. With this book, Harold Demsetz continues to spoil his audience with a wide-ranging array of novel and thought-provoking essays.” – Francesco Parisi, University of Minnesota and University of Bologna

“The book From Economic Man to Economic System is an excellent piece of research, which focuses on the various economic discussions of individual behavior to discussions of economic institutions. Especially tackling the important issues of self interest, capitalism and capitalism and its institutions, it is worthwhile reading for everyone who is interested in economic decisions and economic institutions.” - Friedrich Schneider, Johannes Kepler University of Linz

From Economic Man to Economic System brings Harold Demsetz’s deep learning and analytical insights to bear on ongoing intellectual debates addressing the efficiency (and efficacy) of unfettered market capitalism, the regulation of environmental quality and the modern business corporation, and the causes of the wealth of nations. The 11 essays collected here are uniformly well-crafted and thought-provoking. Maintaining accessibility without sacrificing rigor, Professor Demsetz traces the institutions of capitalism – the market and the firm – to their source, masterfully probing the nature of Homo Economicus in that agent’s starkest manifestation, thereby laying a foundation for astute commentaries on the selfish gene versus economically rational altruism, on the problems of establishing and defining ownership rights, on private property rights versus communal rights, on misinterpretations of the Coasian concept of “transaction costs,” and on the consequences of confusing transaction costs with the costs of using the price system. The product of a lifetime of reflection by one of the economics profession’s most penetrating thinkers, From Economic Man to Economic System will be of interest to economists, legal scholars and many others.” - William F. Shughart II, F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of Mississippi

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