Sunday, 11 June 2017

Book Review: The Price of Fish

Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that in my book reviews, I rarely review a book that I don't like. That is probably because I tend to have a pretty good filter most of the time for the books I read, so that I don't pick up a book that I won't like. However, that isn't always the case and I just finished reading "The Price of Fish" by Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris and was pretty disappointed.

The subtitle of the book is "A new approach to wicked economics and better decisions", and so I guess I was expecting something that would challenge my thinking a little bit. Unfortunately, while the authors claim to be developing a new framework for decision-making, my impression of the book is that it was a particularly shallow collection of references to work that others have done, where none of the references do a particularly good job of explaining the key issues or why that particular reference is important. Essentially, the book could adequately be summarised as: "here are a bunch of ideas we have read about. We're not going to explain them to you, but believe us when we say that by collecting them together we have created a new way of thinking about decision making". Blech.

To give you some idea, try this passage on Elinor Ostrom's work:
Ostrom derived eight design principles for systems that successfully manage common-pool resources:

  • Clearly defined boundaries
  • Equivalence between costs and benefits (appropriation and provision rules) in local conditions.
  • Collective-choice arrangements.
  • Monitoring.
  • Graduated sanctions.
  • Conflict-resolution mechanisms.
  • Recognition of rights to organize.
  • The use of nested enterprises.
That's pretty much all you get. The authors never explain this list of bullet points (and this is not the only time they do this). It just seems to be something they have picked up and thought important (and it is), but it isn't well integrated into their overall narrative (unless their narrative really is that they are collecting a bunch of ideas they have read about?). It is all very well to assume some prior knowledge of your readers, or give them teasers so that they go out and read more about certain topics, but Mainelli and Harris do this far too often for my liking. 

Finally, their "new approach to wicked economics and better decisions" isn't pulled together until page 287 (out of 310), so you have to wait a while to see what they are suggesting. But to me the new approach isn't all that new, and doesn't really rely on the previous 280+ pages of material.

So if you're looking for some good reading over the semester break, this isn't it. I suggest avoiding this book, as there are much better alternatives available. If you want a new approach to economics, you would be better off with Alvin Roth's "Who Gets What - and Why" (see my review here).

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