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Robert Shiller: The Best Econ Books I’ve Read Recently

Robert Shiller is the Arthur M. Okun Professor of Economics at Yale University and co-author, with George Akerlof, of last year’s Animal Spirits. He recently recommended two economics books:

Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages and Well-Being, by George A. Akerlof and Rachel E. Kranton

Psychology research has shown that our personal identity — a sense of who we are and to what group we belong — is a powerful shaper of our behavior. But until now, this research has had minimal impact on economics. Reading this book gives deep perspective on how economic theories should be revised. The book addresses fundamentally important issues such as worker and executive compensation, corporate social responsibility, the effectiveness of our educational institutions, and the economic conditions associated with gender and race. This book just stands out for the enormous importance of its message: We have to get past the “efficient markets” theories of our economies and find a more human way of thinking about economic problems.

Economics of Integrity: From Dairy Farmers to Toyota, How Wealth Is Built on Trust and What That Means for Our Future, by Anna Bernasek

This book is a reminder that our economy functions as it does not just because of a profit motive, or because of regulations, but also because, fundamentally, people believe in what they are doing and have a personal sense of integrity. Our milk is safe to drink (and is not contaminated with bacteria or other pollutants) not primarily because some regulator is imposing penalties on milk producers who do it wrong, but because all those workers from the cow to the supermarket just know that somebody will drink this milk, and intrinsically want to do their job right. That is the underappreciated side of our capitalist economy. I think this little book would be an excellent morale-building giveaway from corporations to their employees or clients.