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What institutions have made this possible? In The Company of Strangers , Paul Seabright provides an original evolutionary and sociological account of the emergence of those economic institutions that manage not only markets but also the world's myriad other affairs. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, history, psychology, and literature, Seabright explores how our evolved ability of abstract reasoning has allowed institutions like money, markets, and cities to provide the foundation of social trust.

But how long can the networks of modern life survive when we are exposed as never before to risks originating in distant parts of the globe? This lively narrative shows us the remarkable strangeness, and fragility, of our everyday lives. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published August 7th by Princeton University Press first published More Details Original Title. Other Editions 8. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

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The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

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THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS by Robert Wilson | Kirkus Reviews

Sort order. Jun 06, Erik rated it really liked it. Starts strong and peters out. I find this is the case with many books with grandiose goals. Sections 1 and 2 are far better than 3 and 4.

This book is a profound and impressive view of economics. Its broad sweep of history - from pre-agricultural man to the present - and examination of the fundamentals of human interaction leave you with a feeling of "wow, this is deep". And it is meant to: Seabright argues convincingly and enjoyably that we aren't awed enough by the economies that humans have developed. These economies require massive amounts of trust, and as a species we are just not evolved to trust people to whom we aren't rel This book is a profound and impressive view of economics.

These economies require massive amounts of trust, and as a species we are just not evolved to trust people to whom we aren't related. So we've developed some social norms and some institutions to help trust along and BOOM, we've developed this massive, sophisticated, and technological economy in only the most recent fraction of our species' existence. This economy, then, is as fragile as the trust we carry in strangers, as supported by these norms and institutions.

The particularly impressive part is the range of disciplines he brings to bear on his subject: not just economics but also psychology, history, literature, anthropology, social sciences, etc. This breadth makes the book interesting and enjoyable. While his writing style is generally engaging, it can take on an academic feel. Fortunately he has organized it academically, with chapter and section introductions and summaries - my advice is if you feel your mind wandering, feel free to skip to the next summary. WIth the weight of feeling you need to read every word lifted, you'll be surprised how often you stay to read everything anyway.

Mar 06, Wilte rated it liked it Shelves: ub. An economist looks at evolutionary roots of human society and its structures. How does our evolutionary path shape current institutions and mutual trust?

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It is the most convincing purveyor of trust in the many claims made by would-be borrowers for the quality of their business propositions. We ourselves are the real police; those who wear uniforms are just the special forces, playing a crucial but minority role in overseeing the billions of daily interactions between strangers in our modern world. Such a social space Schools in the 21st century need above all to teach children the one vital skill for the survival of humanity, namely, how to live peacefully and profitably with people whose community and religion are not one's own Oct 12, Ricardo rated it it was amazing.

An excellent book!! As spicies, our success is completely due to our team work; but, at the same time, the biggest challenges for the continuity of the species are the outcomes of our team work. Aug 20, Rhys rated it it was ok. As with any 'history of For Seabright 'Economic Life' means uncritical 'free market' capitalism and an end-of-history political order based on the State.

Where I think he has it correct is his misgivings around our ability to collectively navigate degradation of the natural enviroment. The language is not fluid. Still follows complex narration. Expected some more anthropological examples but turns out the author explains more than the examples should have done. You can skim through most portions with not mote than a glance. Jul 19, Solveig Singleton rated it it was amazing.

One of the finest things I've read in years. An account of how our behavior as individuals affects systems economic, political, environmental in the big picture. Wonderful mix of economics, history, and the natural sciences. Aug 16, Terry rated it liked it Shelves: economics , history , get-again. Today's economy is all about systems of trust.

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Dennett revised edition address financial collapse, ie lost of trust Notes p. When trust is broken, all hell breaks out. Past examples: belief in witc thesis is that in order to transition beyond tribal hunter gather societies, a system of trust needs to evolve - trust between strangers. Past examples: belief in witchcraft Locke and Newton believed in it, BTW ; modern day hysteria examples. Narrative is we found evil Nazis but reality is we also committed some atrocities including rape. Politically liberal men at Law. Livermore Nuclear Lab design nuc.

But it has added to the risks with which our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more familiar, the risk of the natural world and its predators and the risk posed by human enemies, neither of which has disappeared. Our emotional reactions to risk are still "The predicament of unemployed steelworkers, coal miners, fishermen not to mention the rich world's textile workers, secretaries, automobile assemblers - all those whose skills are less in demand than they used to be is not at all new in history.

Our emotional reactions to risk are still shaped by that hunter-gatherer heritage. We treat those who suffer the hazards of life either as casualties of a blind chance that we may fear but cannot logically resent, or as victims - chosen sufferers of deliberate aggression to which the only emotional response is resentment and the only justifiable response, revenge.

Even today the debate about the costs of economic change in an integrated world is polarized between those who see no casualties, only victims like the doomed heroes who fought on picket lines to prevent the closing of British coal mines in the long and futile strike of , and those who see no victims, only casualties like those brisk prophets of globalization who are only concerned about reducing trade barriers and not about those who will be hurt as a result. The truth is that those who are hurt by economic change in today's world fall into a different category, one needing both an emotional and a practical response for which our history has poorly prepared us.

This brings us back to the theme which which we began. The practical intelligence that has evolved among human beings is very skilled at manipulating the natural environment and managing the interactions of small groups of individuals who see each other frequently and know each other well.

It is only in the last ten thousand years - far too recently for genetic evolution to have been affected - that human beings have had to come to terms on a significant scale with the impact of strangers, and it is only in the last two hundred or so that this impact has become the dominant fact of everyday life. To manage the hazards imposed on us by the actions of distant strangers has required us to deploy a different skill bequeathed to us by evolution for quite different purposes: the capacity for abstract symbolic thought.

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