The Price of the Price of Everything

by Russ Roberts on March 10, 2011

in Books, Complexity & Emergence

I noted yesterday that Amazon, for reasons I did not understand, has chosen to discount my book, The Price of Everything by 47% and is selling it for $8.99. Some commenters noted with humor or irony that the author of The Price of Everything did not understand the price of his own book. One wag suggested an explanation for the low price–a lack of demand. (FWIW–Amazon discounts bestsellers between 45% and 50%. TPOE is not a bestseller though yesterday’s mention here did help.) One commenter wondered about the puny royalty paid to an author of a book selling for less than $9.

I am happy that it is cheap. True, I don’t make much money on it, but I want people to read the book and I actually believe demand curves slope downward.

By the way, the book is not about explaining the price of everything. It is about understanding how the price of everything affects our lives and the role of emergent order. One of the themes of the book is how beautiful an economic system can be in that it works well even when no one understands how the price of anything is determined. We only know our little corner of the economic world and we respond to the prices of the items we care about with our own specialized knowledge. I like all my books, but The Price of Everything is my favorite, at least for now. It tries to capture what I think is the deepest idea I have learned in economics–the idea of emergent order in complex systems and the implications of that order for policy, behavior, and just understanding what appears to be the chaos of the world around us. In fact, it is not so chaotic.

One of the goals of the book is to sensitize the reader to the pervasiveness of order and complexity. Once you see it, it changes the way you look at organizations, organizational change, your family, and of course, economics and politics. Of course as the author, I may be a tad oversensitive to seeing emergent order all around me.

The book is still $8.99 today. The Kindle version is $8.09.

If you are a teacher considering using it in the classroom, here are some excellent discussion questions from Art Carden who was using it in his Econ 101 class. And here is my graphical analysis of emergent order and the role of prices using a supply and demand framework. Please share either of these resources with your students if they are helpful.


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