Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Company of Strangers by Paul Seabright

Intelligent and well-sourced, The Company of Strangers presents a decent overview of economic issues mixed with evolutionary & historical perspectives. The main theme, stated in the title, is that everyday we trust our lives to strangers and we have (mostly) made peace with this. In fact, our tendency to do so is so great that we don’t even notice the myriad ways in which we live in, and depend upon, the company of strangers (e.g., traffic, food preparation, health care). This “trust” isn’t entire (as we know there are cheaters) and we still have caution in many situations, but Seabright does an excellent job at highlighting this phenomena.
The downside of the work is that it was too much of an introduction (to me). Additionally, the work is more a collection of related essays than a sustained argument, which detracts from persuasion.Each chapter seemed like it would explore an interesting economic concept as it related to policy or personal issues, but the exploration was usually too shallow to satisfy. That said, there were interesting pieces of information throughout the pages, such as the examination of the recent financial collapse, the lives of various people in various times, and how we end up in competition with each other. At times I found it quite an enjoyable read, at others the writing was uneven and there were not enough new ideas for the length (not enough “useful thoughts per minute”).
Decent with some excellent points and an important perspective, but neither captivating nor extensively detailed. You might like it but, looking back, I probably needn’t have read it.


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