Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception

By Hauptman, Robert | Journal of Information Ethics, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception


Hauptman, Robert, Journal of Information Ethics


Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015. 272 pp. $24.95

George Akerlof won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001; Robert Shiller won it 12 years later. They are a formidable pair of economists who probably write incomprehensible mathematical papers on micro- and macro-economic theory, which may even confuse their peers.1 Somehow they have combined here to produce an eminently readable text, one that anyone with a high school education can understand and savor. People operating in the real, economic world of earning, spending, advertising, purchasing, and renting should avail themselves of the material presented. It alerts the financially ingenuous to the tricks that deceive them - the phools of the title. The market, so beloved by defenders of unrestricted capitalism, lends itself to deception and trickery that seduce us to purchase and overpay for (mediocre) things we do not require (and sometimes do not even want). It is a vicious cycle perpetrated by marketers and advertisers. Early copywriters created narrative texts that convinced people to purchase sometimes completely worthless products. They lied or distorted - about, for example, useless hearing aids as well as pain pills in what the authors describe as "perhaps the most nauseating ad of all time": "Anacin contained 'the pain reliever doctors recommend most.'" But other brands also contain aspirin! Next come the many rip-offs that sully the auto, house, and credit card business (an industry that earns $150 billion a year), as well as politics (where democracy is undermined).

Worse, because they bear immediate negative results, are the production and sale of food and pharmaceuticals. Food is safer than it was a hundred years ago, when it was contaminated with offal and disease, but it is now overflowing with fat, salt, and sugar, the ingestion of which causes real physical and mental harm. And drugs may make it through the FDA gauntlet only to harm or kill. An excellent example is the pain reliever Vioxx, which was responsible for 26,000 to 56,000 deaths; this drug is no longer available. When Big Pharma is not gaming the FDA, it is doing the same thing to both doctors and patients, The former are inundated by salesmen and their lagniappes (bribes). Patients are those people who read newspapers and watch television where advertisements and commercials for specific medicinals are touted and which often conclude by admonishing the unknowledgeable to request a prescription for the potent (and potentially fatal) drug from a doctor. These drugs earn astounding amounts of money (many billions of dollars) for their producers.

The authors next attempt to show how the creation or development of something (Facebook, rankings), which helps to stimulate the economy, may have a negative, harmful side effect. They are especially hard on tobacco and alcohol, which people continue to consume even though they suspect or k now they are harmful ("almost 20 percent of all U. …

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