The Mind of the Market by Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer’s The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics has been fun to read!

In this book, Shermer sets out to use the framework of evolutionary economics, “the study of the economy as an evolving complex adaptive system grounded in a human nature that evolved functional adaptations to survival as a social primate species in the Paleolithic epoch in which we evolved,” to explain:

  1. How the market has a mind of its own – how economies evolved from hunter-gathering to consumer-trading.
  2. How minds operate in markets – how the human brain evolved to operate in a hunter-gatherer economy but must function in a consumer-trader economy.
  3. How minds and markets are moral –how moral emotions evolved to enable us to cooperate and how this capacity facilitates fair and free trade.

Some of the interesting concepts I’ve learned about so far include “reciprocal altruism” (I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine) and the correlating aversion to unfairness, “virtue economics” (Shermer’s own term for the the principle that when someone gives us something we feel we should give something back), and “coyotes interruptus” (the initutive sense of how the physical world works, in honor of Wile E Coyote).

I’m not very far into the book so I’ll write more when I get a bit further into it.

Also, I appreciated Shermer’s Prologue, where he introduced readers to his personal history and the moments in his young adulthood that led to his current occupation and founding Skeptic magazine.

Shermer, who I didn’t know much about before picking up this book, is the author of many books: Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, How We Believe, 2nd Edition: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense, In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History, Race Across America: The Agonies and Glories of the World’s Longest and Cruelest Bicycle Race, and others.

Click here to read an excerpt or here to visit Shermer’s website.

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