Viking, £16.99. Order at the discounted price of £13.99 inc. p&p from 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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star