Wednesday , June 28 2017
Home / Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

Books about calling statistical bullshit

Books about calling statistical bullshit A friend recently emailed to ask me for books that might help navigate a world full of statistical bullshit. Here are some recommendations. I can’t think of a better science writer than Ben Goldacre, who burns with righteous mischief. His Bad Science (UK) (US) isn’t always about statistics, but it’s excellent throughout and an essential read for anyone who wants to understand some of the faults of modern health and nutrition journalism....

Read More »

Donald Trump and Theresa May Give U-Turns A Bad Name

Donald Trump and Theresa May Give U-Turns A Bad Name A few weeks ago Donald Trump set a record that I assumed was unassailable; Theresa May has since sailed past it with ease. The leaders of the US and the UK have become so proficient at changing direction that “U-turn” no longer seems adequate. Donald and Theresa are spinning policy doughnuts. Mr Trump has a notoriously flexible approach to his own pledges. He has reversed course on issues as diverse as whether he will put...

Read More »

What are the best books about the history of technology?

What are the best books about the history of technology? I’ve had such fun working on the book and radio series, Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy – and along the way I’ve had the opportunity to read some great books about the history of economics, finance, innovation and technology. Here are some of my favourites. Alison Wolf The XX Factor (UK) (US) – Fun yet rigorous exploration of women’s participation in the workforce, and how and why it’s been changing over the...

Read More »

The age of the Microsoft and Amazon economy

The age of the Microsoft and Amazon economy One of my first economics lessons contrasted perfect competition, which was judged to be a good thing, with monopoly, which was not. There are worse places to begin than by being shown the difference between championing the miracle of the free market and favouring the depredations of dominant businesses. But monopoly power has often seemed like yesterday’s issue. Standard Oil was broken up in 1911; AT&T in 1984. To the extent that...

Read More »

I’m giving some talks. Come along!

I’m giving some talks. Come along! A few upcoming talks, mostly about my new book, Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy. (UK) (US). Do come along if you can! Interviewing Owain Service at Waterstones Piccadilly on 20 June 2017, 7pm. (Owain’s book, “Think Small“, is great.) The UK launch of  Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy at HowTo Academy, Conway Hall, 5 July 2017, 7pm. Talking about Messy at OffGrid, Osea Island, 10 July 2017. In conversation with the very smart...

Read More »

Where the truth really lies with statistics

Where the truth really lies with statistics As any magician can tell you, the real trick often takes place offstage. The deck has already been stacked; the card placed into the shoe. No matter how closely you look, you’ll never spot the sleight of hand. So it is with statistics. We often pay attention to the wrong thing, scrutinising the numbers with a forensic eye without asking about what those numbers really describe. Sometimes there is no intent to deceive; there doesn’t...

Read More »

Undercover Monday 3

Undercover Monday 3 Books of the week I read Elie Wiesel’s Night – his account of surviving Auschwitz. It’s a simple and powerful book, almost unbearable. I picked it up in a Bodleian Library reading room and for an hour or so, while I read, I was completely unaware of everything going on around me. Brilliant and horrifying. Everybody should read it. (UK) (US) One thing that will stay with me was the desperation of Moishe, who knows what’s coming – but the Jews of Hungary simply...

Read More »

Personal finance sets traps for dinosaurs

Personal finance sets traps for dinosaurs It was free!” announces Bob the Dinosaur, an adorable moron from the Dilbert cartoon. Bob is driving a bright red convertible. “They just make you sign papers!”, he elaborates. That cartoon is a quarter of a century old, but some things never change. The suspicion lingers that too many people are buying cars using financial products they do not fully understand. In the UK, the finger of suspicion is pointing at personal contract purchase...

Read More »

Economics lessons from Dr Seuss

Economics lessons from Dr Seuss Language matters. Any poet can attest to that, as can any lawyer. (One recent court case in the US turned on an ambiguity created by a missing comma.) But it’s less clear that we economists have realised how important it is to write clearly.One who has is Paul Romer, the Chief Economist of the World Bank. Mr Romer has provoked a staff rebellion by instructing his large team of research economists to sharpen up their language. He’s threatened to...

Read More »

Should we introduce obligatory holidays?

Should we introduce obligatory holidays? The UK election has thrown up an intriguing idea. In a modern twist on the old offer of bread and circuses, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has proposed four new public holidays — nearly a full working week’s worth. Since England and Wales currently have only eight such holidays, it would be a dramatic expansion in mandatory fun. I like a holiday as much as the person in the next deckchair, but such days off are not costless. As any...

Read More »