The Myth of the Rational Market

The Myth of the Rational Market


作    者
Fox, Justin;  
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Business & Economics  > General
Business & Economics  > Economic History
Business & Economics  > Economics > Theory
Business & Economics  > Investments & Securities
Business & Economics  > Investments & Securities > General
23.5 * 3.81 * 15.88

Product Description

Chronicling the rise and fall of the efficient market theory and the century-long making of the modern financial industry, Justin Fox's The Myth of the Rational Market is as much an intellectual whodunit as a cultural history of the perils and possibilities of risk. The book brings to life the people and ideas that forged modern finance and investing, from the formative days of Wall Street through the Great Depression and into the financial calamity of today. It's a tale that features professors who made and lost fortunes, battled fiercely over ideas, beat the house in blackjack, wrote bestselling books, and played major roles on the world stage. It's also a tale of Wall Street's evolution, the power of the market to generate wealth and wreak havoc, and free market capitalism's war with itself.

The efficient market hypothesis—long part of academic folklore but codified in the 1960s at the University of Chicago—has evolved into a powerful myth. It has been the maker and loser of fortunes, the driver of trillions of dollars, the inspiration for index funds and vast new derivatives markets, and the guidepost for thousands of careers. The theory holds that the market is always right, and that the decisions of millions of rational investors, all acting on information to outsmart one another, always provide the best judge of a stock's value. That myth is crumbling.

Celebrated journalist and columnist Fox introduces a new wave of economists and scholars who no longer teach that investors are rational or that the markets are always right. Many of them now agree with Yale professor Robert Shiller that the efficient markets theory “represents one of the most remarkable errors in the history of economic thought.” Today the theory has given way to counterintuitive hypotheses about human behavior, psychological models of decision making, and the irrationality of the markets. Investors overreact, underreact, and make irrational decisions based on imperfect data. In his landmark treatment of the history of the world's markets, Fox uncovers the new ideas that may come to drive the market in the century ahead.

About the Author

Justin Fox is editorial director of the Harvard Business Review Group, and a contributor to Time magazine and PBS's Nightly Business Report. Previously, he was a columnist at Time and an editor and writer at Fortune. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and son.


“A lucid, lively and learned account.” (Barron's )

“Justin Fox is a truly insightful fellow who can see things with his own eyes—a rare, very rare attribute.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan )

“Fox makes business history thrilling.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch )

“...a rich history of the world’s most seductive investing idea...the book chronicles the rise of rational market theory over the decades and captures the sizzle and pop of the intellectual debate ...” (Bloomberg )

“A tough, tasty steak of a book.” (Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times )

“Impressively broad and richly researched.” (Financial Times )

“This wise and witty book is must reading for anyone who wonders what makes financial markets tick. Even those who have wrestled with this question for years will be glad to have read Fox’s compelling history.” (Peter Bernstein, author of Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk )

“A thoughtful, often fascinating, always illuminating history of the idea of market rationality.” (Cory Doctorow, boingboing.net )

“A fascinating historical narrative.” (Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post )

“An intellectual tour-de-force...” (The Economist )

“Superbly accurate and readable... Clearly the result of many years of research and reading,... it is a model of what the popularization of social science can be, but too rarely is, and it will continue to be read when the current crisis is many years behind us.” (American Scientist )

“Do we really need yet another book about the financial crisis? Yes, we do — because this one is different. Fox’s book is not an idle exercise in intellectual history, which makes it a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the mess we’re in.” (Paul Krugman, New York Times Book Review )

“His analysis is singularly compelling, and the rare business history that reads like a thriller... A must-read for anyone interested in the markets, our economy or government, this dense but spellbinding work brings modern finance and economics to life.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review) )

“Good wonky fun.” (Barry Ritholz, The Big Picture blog )

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At the core of the current financial crisis has been the widely held assumption that markets behave rationally. Fox, Time magazine editor-at-large, isn't the first to bring scrutiny—or censure—to the conceit, but his analysis is singularly compelling, and the rare business history that reads like a thriller. Fox leads us on a chronological journey of modern economic theory, featuring the cast of scholars who constructed the 20th- and 21st-century financial landscape, from Irving Fisher to such post-WWII figures as Milton Friedman, Harry Markowitz, Franco Modigliani and Merton Miller, Jack Treynor and William Sharpe. Fox offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at academia's finest, complete with amusing anecdotes about the players and their theories, and illustrates how our economic behaviors and markets have been shaped by a gradually refined theory holding that the stock market prices are both random and perfectly rational. A must-read for anyone interested in the markets, our economy or government, this dense but spellbinding work brings modern finance and economics to life. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com The upside of the current Great Recession is that it could drive a stake through the heart of the academic nostrum known as the efficient-market hypothesis. This theory holds that stock and bond markets are nearly perfect -- even during such crazes as the dot-com mania -- and that prices on the exchanges instantly and accurately reflect the available information about publicly traded securities. After the market crash of 1987, Yale University economist Robert Shiller called that belief "the most remarkable error in the history of economic theory." He could have said "most harmful error" as well. Yet it lived on and contributed mightily to the mortgage bust. One presumes from the title of Justin Fox's "The Myth of the Rational Market" that he has come to bury, not to praise. And certainly, the opportunity for such an undertaking is rich. Proceeding from the assumption that economic actors are unerringly rational, the theory's disciples have endowed market prices with the wisdom of every moment. Thus, at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reflects the accumulated financial knowledge of civilization, and equally so at 2 on Thursday -- even if the market has moved hundreds of points in the interim. How did this faith in the supremacy of market group-think do us harm? For one, as the dot-com and other manias demonstrated, the crowd occasionally gets it wrong. The mistaken faith in markets turned regulators into fawning groupies. Notably, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan doubted that he or anyone else could detect -- or regulate -- a bubble in advance. The power of the doctrine was its grand design: the comforting notion that the financial universe adhered to absolute laws. But that was also its flaw. Prices couldn't be wrong; if they were, someone would seek to profit from the error and correct it. The illustrative joke was of two economists who spot a $10 bill on the ground. One stoops to pick it up, whereupon the other interjects, "Don't. If it were really $10, it wouldn't be there anymore." Theorists such as Eugene Fama decreed that if prices are unforeseeable, then the future direction of the market is random. And if the market is truly random, prices should follow what mathematicians call a bell-curve distribution. In nature, this works. We don't know whether your neighbor will be tall or short, but we can predict, with pretty close approximation, how many very tall people will live in your town. In nature, extreme results such as a village of seven-footers will never occur. Fox tells the story of how financial engineers assumed that markets would behave the same way, with generally predictable variances in prices. In particular, the theory of option pricing, the cornerstone of modern finance, has built into it the assumption that prices are random. The theory was devised by Fischer Black, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton. The last two won the Nobel Prize in 1997 and were partners in Long-Term Capital Management, the hedge fund that blew up in 1998. What happened to LTCM? It turned out that in financial markets, extreme events do happen. People get emotional and decide to buy (or sell) in unison. All of LTCM's trades went sour simultaneously. Nonetheless, the modelers kept at it. Rating agencies assumed that subprime mortgagees would behave in random fashion -- large numbers of people would never default at the same time, right? (Oops.) Fox, a business columnist for Time, spins a fascinating historical narrative, beginning with economist Irving Fisher's paean to markets in, alas, 1929. Postwar economists such as Paul Samuelson noticed that most investment pros do not beat the averages. This led to the one positive contribution of the efficient-market hypothesis: Jack Bogle's invention of index funds, which mimic the performance of the stock market as a whole and keep ordinary people from wasting their money trying to beat it. Fox recognizes that true believers in the market's efficiency suffered from a "blinkered" mindset and "tunnel vision." Yet I think he lets them off too easily. He laments (as if it were necessary) the lack of any alternative "grand new theory" and finds that the debate has resulted in a "muddle." Fox concludes, "If you do come up with an idea for beating the market, you need a model that explains why everybody else isn't already doing the same thing." Not necessarily. Markets aren't physics. Maybe no one model explains them. The emerging school of behavioral finance fills in many of the gaps left by the efficient marketers. Behavioral finance, which Fox discusses at length, holds that financial man -- far from the perfect, mechanical trader depicted in textbooks -- is a rather neurotic fellow. He follows the crowd, fails to plan ahead and often makes mistakes. To think that his every price is perfect is a remarkable error indeed.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.