Preference Pollution

How Markets Create the Desires We Dislike
David George
Explores the failure of markets to shape desirable preferences


The popularity of the free market rests largely on its demonstrated ability to best fulfill our desires. Preference Pollution takes the position that, while goods are indeed well served by market forces, such forces fail to create the desires that we wish to have. Further, David George argues, economists' definitions of efficiency can be used to demonstrate that the market in fact disregards people's desires about their desires—otherwise known as second-order preferences. The success of fast food is one example: many people know that it is not particularly healthy, but they eat it anyway.

Often critiques of market forces begin by dismissing the presuppositions of mainstream economics. In contrast, Preference Pollution recognizes the powerful attraction of the standard model and carries out its critique of the market without discarding this tradition. Combining theoretical and historical evidence, George focuses on the subtleties of second-order preferences and concludes that markets perform poorly with respect to these desires, thus worsening the problem of undesired desires. Additionally, George investigates changes in perceptions and public policy regarding such areas of life as gambling, credit, entertainment, and sexual behavior.

Preference Pollution is required reading for economists concerned with the normative question of how well markets function. In addition, it will appeal to psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and the general reader who is seeking ways to better articulate the sense that the spread of markets is having some unrecognized damaging effects.

David George is Professor of Economics, LaSalle University.

Praise / Awards

  • "This book takes us a giant step forward on the road that leads to a whole new economics. One that has a systematic room for social and cultural factors; one that has sound ethical foundations; one that can truly help us grapple with the challenging problems society faces."
    —Amitai Etzioni, Author of The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics,
  • "Are some preferences and desires better than others? The obvious answer to this question is yes, but for two centuries economists have told us that there's really no scientifically valid way to answer this question. Now, in Preference Pollution, economist David George shows us that we can answer the question with rigor and precision, and that when we do, we find out that the 'market,' the economists' cure for all that ails, systematically engenders in us the wrong preferences and desires. All social scientists and thoughtful citizens will benefit from reading this engaging and accessible book."
    —Barry Schwartz, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action, Swarthmore College.
  • "All (good) economists know that tastes are, to some degree, endogenous. But they hide from that reality like an ostrich with its head in the sand. David George has his head in the air. He provides an economic approach that starts dealing with endogenous tastes. It won't be the end of the story, but it's a great beginning. Definitely worth reading."
    —David Colander, Middlebury College
  • "We often find ourselves doing things we really would prefer not to do. In Preference Pollution David George shows how our 'better selves' get distorted—marketing ploys get us to eat too many Big Macs, gamble, and buy stuff we can't afford. Our deeper preferences say, 'Don't want these things!' but our impulses, helped by market forces, push us to lose our self-control."
    —Kenneth Koford, Editor, Eastern Economic Journal, and Professor, University of Delaware

Look Inside

Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 216pp.
  • 32 drawings, 1 table.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08949-9

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.

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