Summary of The Price of Fish

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The Price of Fish book summary

Editorial Rating



  • Well Structured
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


This is the book for students who rolled their eyes as the economics professor doggedly scribbled supply-and-demand curves on the board. Scientist Michael Mainelli and accountant Ian Harris didn’t buy that dry drivel, either. Economics as a discipline has much to offer, they argue, but it falls far short of explaining why people behave the way they do. The authors use the ingenious example of commercial fishing: If humans were as all-knowing and rational as economists say, why would commercial fisheries continue to harvest fish stocks to depletion? Mainelli and Harris make a good argument – backed by a sometimes-confusing hodgepodge of studies, cases and examples – that the right economic decision for an individual isn’t the right decision for everyone. They offer an alternative theory of “real commerce” – a study of human motivations that includes economics but dismisses the idea that anyone makes perfectly informed, perfectly logical decisions. getAbstract recommends their work to readers seeking new financial fish to fry.

About the Authors

Michael Mainelli, professor emeritus of commerce and a fellow at Gresham College, and Ian Harris, chairman of BCS The Chartered Institute for IT’s Ethics Group, founded Z/Yen, a commercial think tank in London.


The Right Economic Decision Isn’t Always the Right Decision

While the theory that markets are always right – that they always yield accurate answers to questions of how to set a value for goods and allocate resources – has guided capitalist societies, some obvious cases show that markets can be wrong. Commercial fishing offers a prime example: In too many instances – northern California, the North Sea, the Grand Banks of Newfoundland – fishermen overfished and consumers overconsumed to the point that fish populations collapsed. In the moment, fishermen made the correct economic decision – they caught and sold fish to make a living. Buyers, too, decided what they could afford to eat.

For all the talk of infallible markets, markets can be quite illogical. True, a market can set a price by matching supply and demand, but it can’t calculate the real costs of a product over time.

Traditional economic theory holds that economic decision makers always act rationally on complete information. This simplistic notion implies that market participants are omniscient – not only do they know everything they need to know but they also can predict the future. Yet if fishermen...

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