Butterfly Economics: A New General Theory of Social and Economic Behavior

Paul Ormerod, Author, Ormerod, Author
Paul Ormerod, Author, Ormerod, Author Pantheon Books $18.35 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-40765-9
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Combining sophisticated economic analysis with a gift for lucid explanation, Ormerod deepens and expands upon the points he made in 1994's The Death of Economics. He starts with an elegant critique of conventional economics, arguing that the prevailing thinking mistakenly ignores insights from other fields (notably biology, psychology and literature) and that practitioners of the dismal science pay too little attention to empirical verification and see the world through narrow theoretical blinders. Ormerod, head of the economic assessment unit at the Economist, then presents his alternative approach, Butterfly Economics, an interdisciplinary view that takes its cues from sources as diverse as ant behavior and the mathematics of chaos theory. The mathematics, relegated to three appendices, are simplified to a high-school algebra level. But Ormerod's argument is easy enough to follow without the numbers as he applies Butterfly Economics to explain why VHS beat out Betamax to become the VCR standard and why low-budget movies often outperform the most expensive Hollywood features. At the core of Ormerod's thinking is the observation that human behavior is not nearly as neatly predictable as prevailing economic models assume, that economic life is more like a living organism than like a machine. His book is amusingly written, and every page offers surprising facts or strikingly new ways of looking at well-known facts. Anyone who likes to think about people and how they act will find much of interest, and probably something to love or hate, in this book. (Jan.)