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Shiller is one of several well-known economists and pundits who've begun a running dialogue in the last few years around the drawbacks of unchecked free markets. Few writers, though, dissect the phenomenon of bubble behavior as clearly and thoroughly as Shiller does. As with the first edition of his book, Shiller begins this one with reams of quantitative data around the late 1990s stock-market runup. This new edition adds data on real-estate price trends in the early 2000s, and points out the striking parallels between the earlier stock-market boom and bust, and current trends with housing prices in the United States. Shiller actually believes the two phenomena are related; as investors lost confidence in the stock market and moved their money into real estate, one asset class fell while the other rose. According to Shiller's analysis, the pattern is destined to repeat itself.
Aside from the initial data, the real strength of Irrational Exuberance is the straightforward, almost clinical way in which it explains why things happen as they do. The book walks readers through structural reasons for market bubbles, then ventures into "softer" analyses which professional economists less confident than Shiller would be scared to touch. It examines cultural factors behind market bubbles, such as hype-mongering news media, and psychological factors, such as herd behavior.
Another improvement in this latest edition of Shiller's book is his inclusion of more personal commentary, and he mentions the influence that his wife, herself a clinical psychologist, has had on his intellectual development and his view of psychological impacts on economic behavior. Other personal insights from Shiller center on experiences he had while touring and lecturing around the first book, and some of the most interesting passages are those in which he describes common questions or feedback from his audience, and what he thought in reaction--but didn't voice while on his tour.
In the end, Shiller closes his book with an intriguing set of policy proposals. He argues for a revamping of the U.S. social security system, a new system of house-price insurance for homeowners, and risk reduction through portfolio diversification. Fans of the brainy academic will note with approval that Shiller practices what he preaches: he has begun trying to implement some of his ideas in the real world through two private consulting firms he has founded, Macro Securities Research and Macro Financial. The hope is if Shiller's as correct with this second book as he was with his first, readers will all learn something from these new companies. --Peter Han