Friday , April 28 2017
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Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

Undercover Friday 9

Undercover Friday 9 Podcasts to seek out A terrific long interview with Anne Case on the FT Alphaville podcast – Dr Case has been making waves with a series of research papers with Angus Deaton studying the contrast between the mortality rates of 45-54 year old American whites (which are rising, or depending on the details, not falling) and mortality rates of African Americans (high but falling) and Hispanic Americans (low and falling) and Europeans (low and falling). Important...

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Undercover Friday 8

Undercover Friday 8 Books on my pile Michael Shermer The Believing Brain (UK) (US) is intriguing and well-researched with lots of good storytelling. Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society so devotes a lot of time to fringe beliefs – UFOs, cults, ghosts, that sort of thing. I would have liked to read more about the less extreme forms of belief formation – why people believe in Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, for example, or why people believe in brands such as Coke or...

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Undercover Friday 7

Undercover Friday 7 You might have missed… “Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy” is airing on BBC Radio 4 in a run of 15 daily programmes just after noon. (This project has been such fun to work on.) Loyal listeners will already be subscribing to the podcast, however – and if you’re enjoying it, please spread the word. I meet a lot of “More or Less” listeners who aren’t aware that “Fifty Things” exists. The Problem With Facts – my long FT Magazine feature (or here on my...

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Some things are best left to the technocrats

Some things are best left to the technocrats In case anyone needed reminding of the majestic power of democracy, Boaty McBoatface embarked upon its first mission last week. The robotic yellow submarine will explore the depths of the seas surrounding Antarctica. McBoatface may even encounter Mister Splashy Pants, a humpback whale that frequents the South Pacific. Both names were chosen by popular vote and each, in different ways, was resisted by the organisations that decided to...

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The Problem With Facts

The Problem With Facts 1. Just before Christmas 1953, the bosses of America’s leading tobacco companies met John Hill, the founder and chief executive of one of America’s leading public relations firms, Hill & Knowlton. Despite the impressive surroundings — the Plaza Hotel, overlooking Central Park in New York — the mood was one of crisis. Scientists were publishing solid evidence of a link between smoking and cancer. From the viewpoint of Big Tobacco, more worrying was...

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Society and the profiteroles paradox

Society and the profiteroles paradox Ken is in a restaurant, pondering his choice of dessert. Ice cream, profiteroles or a cheese plate? He’s about to request a scoop of ice cream when the waiter informs him that the profiteroles are off the menu. “I see,” says Ken. “Well, I’ll have the cheese, please.” Ken’s behaviour is odd enough to be a piece of surrealist comedy. But what seems ludicrous from an individual is easy to imagine in an election. Think of George W Bush as ice...

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Undercover Friday 6

Undercover Friday 6 I’ve been on the road, but a few recommendations… Gameshow: Stephen “Freakonomics” Dubner is having a lot of fun with “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know“, a wonderfully nerdy gameshow podcast. I recorded an episode at 6th and I in Washington DC on Monday. Not sure when it will air, but what a wonderful atmosphere. And I got to meet this remarkable lady. Podcast episode: I loved Sebastian Mallaby on macro-musings; fascinating detail on the life of Alan Greenspan....

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Has Facebook ruined the news?

Has Facebook ruined the news? “Our goal is to build the perfect personalised newspaper for every person in the world,” said Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in 2014. This newspaper would “show you the stuff that’s going to be most interesting to you”. To many, that statement explains perfectly why Facebook is such a terrible source of news. A “fake news” story proclaiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump was, according to an analysis from BuzzFeed, the single most...

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The real answer to the problem of texting while driving

The real answer to the problem of texting while driving The UK government is — again — cracking down on driving while using a mobile phone. Tougher sanctions and sharper enforcement will no doubt make some difference. But the real risk of driving while impaired — either drunk, or using a phone — is not the risk of losing your licence. It’s the risk of being in a serious accident. That’s not enough to change the behaviour of some people. What will? A cardinal rule of behaviour...

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