Friday , February 23 2018
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Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

The case for ending Amazon’s dominance

The case for ending Amazon’s dominance It should not be difficult to love Amazon. To consumers, it offers choice and convenience. Countless internet ventures have relied on its cheap, flexible cloud computing services to start and scale up. Amazon makes titans such as Walmart work hard for their revenue, offers a shopping search engine that is Google’s only serious rival, raises the bar for television networks and sells tablet computers at a price to make Apple loyalists stop...

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Review of The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller

Review of The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller Jerry Z Muller’s latest book is 220 pages long, not including the front matter. The average chapter is 10.18 pages long and contains 17.76 endnotes. There are four cover endorsements and the book weighs 421 grammes. These numbers tell us nothing, of course. If you want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of The Tyranny of Metrics (UK) (US) you will need to read it — or trust the opinion of someone who has. Professor...

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The Logic of Failure

The Logic of Failure The most original book I read this week – after a recommendation from the always-worth-listening-to Cass Sunstein – was The Logic of Failure (UK) (US) by Dietrich Dorner. Dorner sets experimental subjects difficult simulation games (they all sound a little bit like Sim City to me) and observes as they try to master the games alone or in groups. Most of their actions have unintended consequences that are predictable in principle, but often confounding to the...

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Lessons from history in how to spot a bubble

Lessons from history in how to spot a bubble Here are three noteworthy pronouncements about bubbles. “Prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” That was Professor Irving Fisher in 1929, prominently reported barely a week before the most brutal stock market crash of the 20th century. He was a rich man, and the greatest economist of the age. The great crash destroyed both his finances and his reputation. “Those who sound the alarm of an...

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Books about money, the mind, and the planet

Books about money, the mind, and the planet A range of books passing across the desk at the moment! I’ve enjoyed Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler’s Small Change (US edition is Dollars and Sense) which is a mashup of all the best in behavioural economics research, whimsical chat and financial advice. Fans of Dan’s earlier work will find this rather familiar – especially if they’ve also read the very good Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (UK) (US) by Belsky and Gilovich, which...

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Why Microsoft Office is a bigger productivity drain than Candy Crush Saga

Why Microsoft Office is a bigger productivity drain than Candy Crush Saga A few weeks before Christmas, an impish chart appeared on the Bank of England’s unofficial blog. It compared plunging productivity with the soaring shipments of smartphones. Typical productivity growth in advanced economies had hovered steadily around 1 per cent a year for several decades, but has on average been negative since 2007. That was the year the iPhone started to ship. Nobody really believes that...

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The world in 2118 – my forecasts for the century ahead

The world in 2118 – my forecasts for the century ahead It is the season for journalists to make their predictions for the year ahead. These forecasts are the mince pies of the intellectual world: tempting, enjoyable, but manifestly unhealthy. So let me attempt a loftier task — and one that is consequence free. I’d like to describe the economy not in the year 2018, but in the year 2118. I’m not the first to attempt a hundred-year forecast. John Maynard Keynes did so in his 1930...

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Busy, Rest, Confessions… what I’ve been reading

Busy, Rest, Confessions… what I’ve been reading Two interesting books about our overly-busy lifestyles: Busy (UK) (US) by Tony Crabbe and Rest (UK) (US) by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Crabbe’s book is pushy, airport business-booky, by no means a masterpiece of writing. But it did make me stop and think about overloading myself with nonsense – and to question bad habits such as boasting about how busy I am. I found it a very useful book to read. Rest is a better structured read,...

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Why you should check email less often, and how to do it

Why you should check email less often, and how to do it More than a decade ago, Dan Russell, a researcher at IBM, won fleeting attention for his email signature: “Join the slow email movement! Read your mail just twice each day. Recapture your life’s time and relearn to dream.” That was quixotic even then. While some people are slow to respond to email, most of us are quick to check it. A 2003 study found that the typical email is attended to in some manner within six seconds of...

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How To Think, in eight easy steps

How To Think, in eight easy steps I enjoyed reading Alan Jacobs’s How To Think (US) (UK). Jacobs could have worked through a list of logical fallacies, or even of cognitive biases (well-covered in David McRaney’s engaging You Are Not So Smart (US) (UK)). Instead, he’s particularly concerned with civility, open-mindedness, and the ability to let oneself be persuaded by others. The weakness of this approach is that Jacobs is rather thin on some important topics such as evaluating...

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