Viking, £16.99. Order at the discounted price of £13.99 inc. p&p from independent.co.uk/bookshop or call 0843 0600 030

Vicky Pryce reviews I Spend Therefore I Am by Philip Roscoe

'A puzzling argument on the value of economics'

We know that economics is not a perfect science. Many even dispute that it is a science at all as the ability to do controlled experiments is limited. We economists construct models not because they are necessarily a completely true reflection of reality but because they are useful pointers. And we are often wrong – and admit it.

Of course we think economics is at the centre of things and we could do better as a society if only we were listened to. But that is a far cry from believing that economics explains everything that goes on in people's lives . Nor does it claim to. But without it, the ability to understand what is going on, price options accordingly and be able to make informed decisions would be reduced.

Philip Roscoe does not agree. He bemoans the power of economics and argues that since it only explains a small part of real life, discourages collective action and promotes self-interested behaviour, it must be rethought and a new economics developed in its place. He uses some intriguing examples to make his case, such as prostitution and online dating. But it is difficult to see why economics is failing us just because interactive internet sites depersonalise prostitutes and their individual services and render them a "commodity" like any other.

Similarly with online dating, which he believes alters the true basis for making choices as one is forced to narrow down the desired qualities (blond, blue-eyed) rather than be guided by the way attraction really works (lovely eyes, great smile). We are therefore encouraged to assign values which cannot truly reflect the complexity of a whole person or the importance of the way people interact with each other.

But I fail to see exactly what is wrong here. Online dating could be seen as what economics can do well: it cuts down the cost of transactions. You don't have to go to wine bars every night looking for someone who might fit the bill; you can do your initial research from home. What's more, the sites offer extra choice and increase the number of people involved; no one is forced to go down this route and it isn't necessarily replacing other ways of meeting. The data he uses himself shows that online dating is just as likely to result in good long-term relationships.

Similarly with externalities [the costs or benefits that affect those who did not choose to incur them] – an area that exercises him, and quite rightly too. Economics here has most to offer. The only way to account for the true cost of a car journey, for example, is through applying economic principles to value the extra burden to society in terms of pollution, congestion, depletion of resources, etc. Yet Roscoe derides the cost benefit and value for money calculations made by government to allocate resources, as he believes "economic efficiency" should not be the overriding factor. But it is only economics that attempts to gauge how society may want to maximise social welfare and then assigns values to alternative options to allow comparisons.

To my surprise, Roscoe ends with a reference to one of my favourite films, Babette's Feast. It is about a woman fleeing the French revolution who turns up in an ascetic Norwegian town. She uses all the money from a lottery win to bring over food and wine from France. As a trained chef, she cooks a brilliant meal for dour villagers who turn into rather inebriated but happier human beings.

Roscoe asks "when has economics ever achieved such transformation?" Yet Babette uses skills that were once valued and well-paid. She buys the lottery ticket having assessed the cost benefit and the likely probability of winning. And when she wins the money she puts it to good use. What gives her satisfaction is to spend it the way she does, something which the economists refer to as "revealed preference". Well, if this isn't economics, what is?

By the end of what is otherwise a very readable and entertaining book, I wasn't any the wiser.

Vicky Pryce will be speaking at the launch of PEN’s prison anthology, 'Running to Stand Still: stories from the inside', on Monday 24 February at the Free Word Centre, Farringdon, London

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence