Human beings are the only species in nature to have developed an elaborate division of labor between strangers. Even something as simple as buying a shirt depends on an astonishing web of interaction and organization that spans the world. But unlike that other uniquely human attribute, language, our ability to cooperate with strangers did not evolve gradually through our prehistory. Only 10,000 years ago - a blink of an eye in evolutionary time - humans hunted in bands, were intensely suspicious of strangers, and fought those whom they could not flee. Yet since the dawn of agriculture we have refined the division of labor to the point where, today, we live and work amid strangers and depend upon millions more. Every time we travel by rail or air we entrust our lives to individuals we do not know. 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.
A brilliant book. -- Martin Wolf Financial Times A very unusual new book about economics, and much else besides... Elaborate co-operation outside the family, but within the same species, is confined to humans. The requirements for such co-operation, and hence for modern economic life, which is founded on specialization and an infinitely elaborated division of labor, are more demanding than you might suppose... The fact that things could have turned out so differently makes the modern global economy, with all its awesome productivity, seem even more miraculous. The Economist A welcome and important contribution... The Company of Strangers exemplifies a new breed of economic analysis, seeking answers to fundamental questions wherever they are found and ignoring disciplinary boundaries... [It] is highly readable and will be accessible to a wide audience. bert Gintis," Nature In his absorbing book, Seabright ... marvels at how easily we 'entrust our lives to the pilot of an aircraft, accept food from a stranger in a restaurant, enter a subway train packed full of our genetic rivals.' It's not often that an economist provides nuggets for cocktail party conversation. -- Peter Young Bloomberg News A clear, thought-provoking and elegant book. -- Howard Davies Times Higher Education Supplement An important and timely book. -- Giles Whittell The Times (London) We now depend on the efforts of many strangers for our lives. In these days of terror and conflict, Seabright's stunning exploration of this human social experiment is timely... This is a book every concerned citizen should read, along with anybody in business who ever has to tangle with government regulations or the law, and who wants to understand why those relationships are so complex. -- Diane Coyle Strategy and Business An entertaining, wide-ranging account about how the economy evolved in a way that allowed strangers, even potentially hostile strangers, to cooperate and even collaborate within market-based institutionsS. Seabright tells the story of how human beings, despite their genetic predisposition toward violent and even murderous behavior, have managed to produce a complex civilization through market-based institutions. Choice