Seabright, Paul 1958- (Paul Bartlett Seabright)
Seabright, Paul 1958- (Paul Bartlett Seabright)
Born July 8, 1958. Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1980, M.Phil., 1982, D.Phil., 1988.
Office—Institut d'Economie Industrielle, Université de Toulouse-1, Manufacture des Tabacs, 21, Allée de Brienne, 31000 Toulouse, France. E-mail—[email protected].fr.
All Souls College, University of Oxford, Oxford, England, fellow, 1980-1994; University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, assistant director of research, 1988-99, reader in economics, 1999-2001; CEPR, research fellow, beginning 1989; École Polytechnique, Paris, France, assistant professor, beginning 1998; Université Toulouse I, Toulouse, France, professor of economics, 2000—; Economic Policy, managing editor, 2000—. Consultant to private sector firms and to European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, World Bank, United Nations, and European Commission. Member of steering committee, CEPR's annual report series on Monitoring European Integration.
New College, Oxford, scholarship, 1976; Gibbs Politics Prize, 1979; Webb Medley Senior Economics Prize, 1980; H.M. Treasury Economic Cadetship, 1980; prize fellowship (philosophy and economics), All Souls, Oxford, 1980; American Express Bank Review Essay Award, 1991.
(With Damien Neven and Robin Nuttall) Merger in Daylight: The Economics and Politics of European Merger Control, Centre for Economic Policy Research (London, England), 1993.
(With Jacques Crémer and Antonio Estache) The Decentralization of Public Services: Lessons from the Theory of the Firm, World Bank (Washington, DC), 1994.
(With Damien Neven, Eleanor Fox, and John Fingleton) Competition Policy and the Tranformation of Central Europe, Centre for Economic Policy Research (London, England), 1996.
(With Damien Neven and Penelope Papandropoulos) Trawling for Minnows: European Competition Policy and Agreements between Firms, Centre for Economic Policy Research (London, England), 1998.
The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2004.
(Editor, with Jurgen von Hagen) The Economic Regulation of Broadcasting Markets: Evolving Technology and the Challenges for Policy, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2007.
Contributor to books, including The Quality of Life, Clarendon Press, 1993; Globalization, Culture and the Limits of the Market, 2004; The Political Economy of Antitrust, 2007. Contributor to periodicals, including the Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Review, Economic Policy, and Journal of Development Economics.
Paul Seabright is perhaps best known for his wide-ranging and enthusiastically received book The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. Synthesizing a vast array of material on evolutionary biology, economic theory, history, literature, psychology, and political philosophy, the book explores the evolution and effects of social trust in human societies. As Seabright put it in an interview published on the Princeton University Press Web site, throughout most of history, human societies were organized as small bands of hunter-gatherers; in this environment, strangers were feared because contact with them could be harmful or even deadly. Now, however, "we depend on strangers for everything—our food, our clothes, our protection. Even stepping outside our house in the morning puts us into a human environment our ancestors 20,000 years ago could not have imagined. That's nothing short of a revolution." Seabright went on to explain that we human beings have used our ability for abstract reasoning and our instincts for cooperation to create "institutions that allow us to treat strangers as honorary friends. They're not, of course, exactly like real friends. That's why the achievement is both so impressive, and perhaps so fragile."
Acknowledging that some analysts find the anonymity of modern life alienating, Seabright told Reason interviewer Julian Sanchez that anonymity is an important precondition for social interaction. "The key point," he emphasized, "is precisely that in order to be able to engage someone—the guy who sells me bread or installs my telephone or whatever—I actually don't need to know much about the guy's character. That's a really important strength, because if I had to know something about his character before I could let him into my house, most of the time I just wouldn't dare. It's exactly because I can be indifferent to the guy that we can function at all. If you trust somebody's personality, you need to know a lot about them."
Though Seabright analyzes the many positive elements of social evolution in The Company of Strangers, he also points out its negatives. Though our web of cooperation is fairly robust, at times it can be extremely fragile—as when our instinct for cooperation is used to persuade us to join together to wage war, or when, as he explained in the Princeton University Press Web site interview, "terrorists strike in places that bring people together—trains, airports, shopping centers. These things make us scared of strangers again in ways our ancestors would have known only too well." What's more, the institutions that make social life possible face "some new and frightening challenges," including environmental degradation, weapons proliferation, and the fact that access to the Internet "has enabled the world's poor, unemployed and excluded to see and feel their deprivations more keenly." To cope with such challenges, Seabright observed, societies must keep in mind the lessons of the past, in which trust networks evolved.
Reviewing The Company of Strangers in the American Scientist, Karl Sigmund observed that "Seabright quite rightly sees in our talent for trusting strangers … the glue behind the social institutions that took us from the first enclosed settlements to the global market and from the defense of herds or grain stores to the class of civilizations—while evolution barely blinked." Sigmund praised the book for its breadth and its engaging insights, commenting that "there seems to be no place where Seabright is a stranger.… He has chapters on the murderousness of apes and on the information behind market prices, on faking laughter and ruling empires, on gifts and auctions (from slave markets to eBay), on property rights, on water management, on the search for knowledge as division of labor across generations." Noting the facility and "verve" of Seabright's prose, Sigmund praised The Company of Strangers as "an excursion, without blinkers and without apprehension, through a tumultuous crowd of ideas." Times Literary Supplement contributor George Peden expressed similar praise for the book, calling it a "model of how different disciplines can enrich each other to explain human progress."
Seabright has also written Merger in Daylight: The Economics and Politics of European Merger Control, with Damien Nevin and Robin Nuttall. The book offers a critical analysis of procedures followed by the E.E.C. Commission's merger task force. Valentine Korah, writing in the Antitrust Bulletin, praised the book for its accessible arguments and lucid prose and deemed it a "serious and competent work that should be widely read" by potential merger players as well as those interested in possible regulatory reform.
Though Journal of Development Studies contributor Alastair McAuley found The Vanishing Rouble: Barter Networks and Non-monetary Transactions in Post-Soviet Societies, edited by Seabright, to be based on some dated assumptions, the critic nevertheless felt that the book remains informative and useful, especially in its inclusion of material that adds "a fascinating social dimension to the statistical material that is the usual focus of economic analysis." In particular, McAuley admired the book's analysis of how communities in isolated regions of Russia coped with economic disruption during the country's transition to a market economy.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Across the Board, July 1, 2004, review of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life, p. 68.
American Scientist, May 1, 2005, Karl Sigmund, "The Man of the Crowd," p. 264.
Antitrust Bulletin, winter, 1995, Valentine Korah, review of Merger in Daylight: The Economics and Politics of European Merger Control.
Business Law Review, March 1, 1999, Mark Furse, review of Trawling for Minnows: European Competition Policy and Agreements between Firms, p. 64.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November 1, 2004, M. Perelman, review of The Company of Strangers, p. 533.
Economic Journal, February 1, 2000, Martin Cave, review of Trawling for Minnows, p. 209.
Economist, August 14, 2004, "The Evolution of Everyday Life; Economics Focus," p. 69.
Ethics, January 1, 1988, Martha C. Nussbaum, "Comment on Paul Seabright," p. 332.
Europe-Asia Studies, January 1, 2003, Christian Nygaard, "The Institutional Economics of Foreign Aid," p. 170.
Harvard International Law Journal, spring, 1999, J.W. Biemans, review of Trawling for Minnows.
International Affairs, April 1, 1994, Philip Lowe, review of Merger in Daylight, p. 330.
International Business Lawyer, November 1, 1999, Daniel G. Swanson, review of Competition Policy and the Transformation of Central Europe, p. 479.
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, March 1, 2004, "The Organization of European Space: Regions, Networks, and Places," p. 225.
Journal of Commerce and Commercial, June 10, 1992, Keith M. Rockwell, "Cambridge Professor Slams EC for Inadequate Merger Guidelines," p. 5.
Journal of Common Market Studies, June 1, 1994, Frank McDonald, review of Merger in Daylight, p. 269.
Journal of Comparative Economics, September 1, 2002, Anders Aslund, review of The Vanishing Rouble: Barter Networks and Non-monetary Transactions in Post-Soviet Societies, p. 626.
Journal of Development Studies, October 1, 2001, Alastair McAuley, review of The Vanishing Rouble, p. 161.
Journal of Economic History, September 1, 2004, Alexander J. Field, review of The Company of Strangers, p. 921.
Journal of Economic Literature, December 1, 2001, Michael Melvin, review of The Vanishing Rouble, p. 1393; June, 2005, Michael Melvin, "Assessing the Impact of the Euro," p. 505; June, 2005, Arthur J. Robson, review of The Company of Strangers, p. 528.
Law and Policy in International Business, fall, 1996, Michael Jacobs, "Competition Policy and the Transformation of Central Europe."
Nature, September 16, 2004, Herbert Gintis, review of The Company of Strangers, p. 245.
New Scientist, October 1, 2005, Maggie McDonald, "Why We Trust," p. 48.
Reason, May 17, 2005, Julian Sanchez, "Darwinian Markets."
Slavic Review, fall, 2002, Vladimir Gimpleson, review of The Vanishing Rouble.
Slavonic and East European Review, October 1, 1997, C.W. Lawson, review of Competition Policy and the Transformation of Central Europe, p. 785.
Times Higher Education Supplement, October 15, 2004, Howard Davies, "A Good Society Takes It on Trust," p. 26.
Times Literary Supplement, April 22, 2005, George Peden, "Shirtsleeved Labour," p. 25.
Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv, summer, 1999, Einar Hope, review of Trawling for Minnows.
Princeton University Press Web site,http://press.princeton.edu/ (February 21, 2008), "Q and A with Paul Seabright."