Now, more than at any other time in our history, the world is faced with a series of vicious and apparently insurmountable difficulties, chief among them unstable financial markets, rapidly diminishing resources and an eco-system that is becoming dangerously volatile.
In The Price of Fish Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris examine in a unique way the world’s most abiding and wicked problems – sustainability, global warming, over-fishing, overpopulation, the pensions crisis; all of which are characterized by a set of messy, circular, aggressive and peculiarly long-term problems – and go on to suggest that it is not the circumstances that are too complex, but our way of reading them that is too simple. Too simple and often wrong.
Looking to the models developed by quantum physicists, the authors aim to blend four streams – choice, economics, systems and evolution – in a combination they believe is the key to making better decisions and, in turn, finding answers to the world’s most pernicious problems.
Transactional commerce – buying and selling – is only a small part of the real world of commerce in the larger sense of the word. This book goes beyond economics alone to look at real commerce, and the ways complex interactions adapt and change over time: the price of fish, for instance, cannot be right when we have over-fishing, hunger and ruined seas.
Just as physicists strive towards a unifying theory that makes sense of the universe as it actually is, Mainelli and Harris are taking steps towards understanding the knotty world we live in, not a simple exercise in chess-players’ logic but an approach which addresses the complex, the cyclical, the hostile and the protracted – helping communities large and small to make better decisions. If we’re ever going to solve the unsolvable, the first steps start here.
Educated at Harvard, Trinity College Dublin and the London School of Economics, Michael Mainelli’s career spans scientific and financial innovation, including co-founding Z/Yen, the City of London’s leading commercial think-tank. After scientific research in aerospace and computer graphics, Michael conceived and produced the first complete digital map of the world, Mundocart, the “Google Earth” of the 1980s. He then moved into finance, becoming partner at a major account- ancy firm running global projects, where he met Ian. He has also served as a director of Europe’s largest R&D organization (DERA), leading to two privatizations. In 2005 Michael became Professor of Commerce at Gresham College, the founding home of the Royal Society (he calls Gresham a “Tudor Open University”). Mainelli is also a Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics.
After studying law and economics, Ian Harris qualified as an accountant and practised as a consultant with numerous high- profile clients, but found himself drawn to the problems of long-term thinking in charities and other non-governmental organizations. Ian is Chair of BCS The Chartered Institute for IT’s Ethics Group. In 1994 Michael and Ian founded Z/Yen. Together they have guided the Marine Stewardship Council towards a Best Practice award, conceived the ground-breaking joint venture Charityshare, built award-winning statistical systems and created the Global Financial Centers Index. They have worked with organizations as diverse as IBM, the London Stock Exchange and the Church of England.
“In this thought-provoking and enlightening book, Mainelli and Harris highlight a point that economists too often forget: that economics is, at its heart, the study of human behaviour, and that both commerce and its wicked sister, finance, mean nothing unless they are connected to people and society.”
Bill Emmott, Former Editor of The Economist
“Today’s economic systems are complex and adaptive. Existing economic models tend to be simplified and rigid. It is little wonder economists are in the doghouse, with their tails between their legs. Manielli and Harris’s book should help coax the hound from the kennel, tail wagging.”
Andy Haldane, Executive Director, Financial Stability, Bank of England
“What has life to do with the price of fish? Practically everything according to witty polymaths Mainelli and Harris. The book forks through loads of theories on economics, commerce and human behaviour, and is always fresh and entertaining, even when covering well-known ground. For fishing in the muddy turmoil of international markets take this modern equivalent of The Compleat Angler with you.”
David Shirreff, who writes for The Economist
“The Price of Fish recognises the importance of competition within a complex world of consumer choice and evolving markets. Mainelli and Harris give policy-makers a richer framework for decision-making, one that applies from finance to scarce resource management and beyond.”
Charlie McCreevy, former EU Commisioner and former Irish Minister for Finance.
"Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris are among the most interesting lateral thinkers on key economic issues of the day. They succeed brilliantly in making their provocative ideas comprehensible to mere mortals."
John Plender, Financial Times
“Politicians cling on to today’s economic orthodoxies like grim death – unwittingly hastening the collapse of the global economy in the process. The ironic and illusion-busting insights of Mainelli and Harris could be just the ticket in wrenching those politicians back to reality.”
Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director, Forum for the Future
“This book is – in the best sense of the word – ‘wicked’. Elliptical, provocative, discursive, infuriating, good for a Notting Hill dinner party – not unlike the authors.”
Andrew Hilton, Director, CSFI
“We have all discovered, painfully, that there are some areas, important to our existence, where price signals have worked badly or not at all. Financial markets are one. Deep sea fishing – part of the tragedy of the commons - is another. This book is a challenging contribution to understanding these failures”.
Vince Cable, (UK) Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
“It's clear that virtually every global system, from finance to mass media and ecosystems to commodity markets, is creaking. Worse than that, the current structures on which our planetary, social and financial health are based have all proved to be expensive, damaging and perverse failures. In a planetary economy crying out for fresh thinking, smart analysis and, crucially, pragmatic optimism, anything Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris have to offer is not only worth a look but arguably a must-read. I recommend this book to anyone who thinks there must be cleverer ways in which civilisation can manage its future.”
Brendan May, UK Chairman, Rainforest Alliance and former CEO, Marine Stewardship Council
"For someone who is not a professional economist, Michael Mainelli thinks more cleverly about economics than anyone else I've met or read. I have never had a discussion with Michael without feeling that I've learned something new. 'The Price of Fish' will provoke, enrage and intrigue people. But above all it will enlighten."
Douglas McWilliams, Chief Executive, Centre for Economics and Business Research
“Your mother used to tell you that fish is good for the brain. Reading this terrifying analysis will prove her right.”
Stephen McDowell, Editor-in-chief, Interactive Investor Group
“This book shows how unpicking something as innocent as the price of fish reveals an interconnected world of “wicked problems”, unravelling which will be vital to squaring the demands of a rising population with climate change and resource depletion.”
Gerard Wynn, Environmental Markets Correspondent, Reuters News
“I spent years ensuring that the price of Scottish salmon could include a responsible approach to the environment. Mainelli and Harris help us all understand the critical nature of the problems – and the urgent need for solutions before it is too late.”
Lord Jamie Lindsay, Chairman of Scottish Agricultural College & Chairman of UKAS
“Crazy, but worth your attention.”
Willie Purves, Former Chairman HSBC