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Book description

The principal findings of experimental economics are that impersonal exchange in markets converges in repeated interaction to the equilibrium states implied by economic theory, under information conditions far weaker than specified in the theory. In personal, social, and economic exchange, as studied in two-person games, cooperation exceeds the prediction of traditional game theory. This book relates these two findings to field studies and applications and integrates them with the main themes of the Scottish Enlightenment and with the thoughts of F. A. Hayek: through emergent socio-economic institutions and cultural norms, people achieve ends that are unintended and poorly understood. In cultural changes, the role of constructivism, or reason, is to provide variation, and the role of ecological processes is to select the norms and institutions that serve the fitness needs of societies.


‘The journey that brought Vernon Smith to his Nobel Prize is not over. It obviously brought us constructive tools, in the form of controlled experimental methods that allow economists to see the lay of the behavioral land more clearly than before. But this magisterial review of the whole journey, including precursors, reminds us that the scope of economics has always been much wider than the straw man that behaviorists like to attack. Properly understood, experimental methods force all economists to think of constructivist and ecological rationality as complementary ways of understanding behavior, rather than as fundamentally inconsistent views of behavior. The journey, then, has really just begun.’

Glenn W. Harrison - College of Business Administration, University of Central Florida

‘Vernon Smith has spent a lifetime of research, combining theory and experimental evidence, exploring the idea and implications of rationality in economics. This book recounts that lifetime, synthesizes it and adds to it - producing a volume that soars above the usual material of economics. The end-product is a volume that takes an eagle's eye view of rationality in economics, and puts it in a new and glorious perspective. Reading it is essential for theorists and practitioners.’

John D. Hey - University of York, UK and LUISS, Italy

‘Rationality in Economics is a delight, garnished with fascinating historical detail, philosophical scientific insights, and an eye on current public policy issues. Vernon Smith, as always, shows a skeptical, irreverent attitude toward ‘rationality models’ based on assumptions that are not stress-tested with cash-motivated subjects in the lab. His own policy recommendations, like the ‘Combinatorial Clock Auction’, are original and innovative.’

Charles Holt - University of Virginia

‘Locating human sociality as a centerpiece of economics, Smith’s clear vision of the meaning of rationality pierces the fog surrounding the place of economics in human society. Ideas of David Hume, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and Herbert Simon are masterfully synthesized with fifty years of experimental data from the economics laboratory to bring us a book that might as well be called ‘The Origin of Human Institutions’.’

Shyam Sunder - School of Management, Yale University

'I am pleased to report that Vernon Smith’s new volume of opinions amounts to the most important book on economic methodology of the past decade.'

Source: Journal of Economics and Philosophy

'… a rich book that is full of stimulating ideas …'

Source: History of Economic Ideas

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