The dismal science cheers up

Economists now embrace irrationality and have discovered their inner party animals. At last, says Richard Reeves.

by Richard Reeves

Something strange has happened. Economics has became fun and is now full of people investigating human frailties and quirks, following hunches, sharing anecdotes, and playing lots of games. Many of them are also able to write with real verve.

Two strands of the new humanism sweeping economics are 'behavioural economics' and 'freakonomics'. Each gets a fresh treatment in two new books: Misbehaving: The making of behavioural economics and When to Rob a Bank: A Rogue Economist's Guide to the World from the duo who brought us Freakonomics.

Thaler is the co-author of Nudge, the book that put behavioural economics on the map. He is also president of the American Economics Association, a sign of how a once maverick movement has entered the mainstream. His new book is a compelling blend of personal memoir and intellectual history, telling the story of how even as a doctoral student, he was obsessed with the refusal of ordinary people to behave as economic models predicted.

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