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The Tyranny of the Market

The Tyranny of the Market

Why You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Joel Waldfogel

ISBN 9780674025813

Publication date: 10/15/2007

Economists have long counseled reliance on markets rather than on government to decide a wide range of questions, in part because allocation through voting can give rise to a "tyranny of the majority." Markets, by contrast, are believed to make products available to suit any individual, regardless of what others want. But the argument is not generally correct. In markets, you can't always get what you want. This book explores why this is so and its consequences for consumers with atypical preferences.

When fixed costs are substantial, markets provide only products desired by large concentrations of people. As a result, people are better off in their capacity as consumers when more fellow consumers share their product preferences. Small groups of consumers with less prevalent tastes, such as blacks, Hispanics, people with rare diseases, and people living in remote areas, find less satisfaction in markets. In some cases, an actual tyranny of the majority occurs in product markets. A single product can suit one group or another. If one group is larger, the product is targeted to the larger group, making them better off and others worse off.

The book illustrates these phenomena with evidence from a variety of industries such as restaurants, air travel, pharmaceuticals, and the media, including radio broadcasting, newspapers, television, bookstores, libraries, and the Internet.

Praise

  • This is a book for all the people out there who sit down and flip through hundreds of channels but never seem to find something they like. In it Joel Waldfogel, one of America's most interesting economists, shows exactly how many people in the marketplace end up stranded, unable to get what they want. It's a provocative statement on why free markets don't necessarily make everyone better off.

    —Austan Goolsbee, The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business

Author

  • Joel Waldfogel is Professor of Business and Public Policy at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Book Details

  • 216 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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