Monday , June 18 2018
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Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

Bread, Brexit, and the power of the third option

Bread, Brexit, and the power of the third option Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 18 May 2018. Imagine that you sell bread-making machines. Your task is complicated by the fact that most people have only a hazy grasp of what a bread-making machine does, let alone the joys and sorrows of owning one. Nevertheless, there is a simple trick that will help these machines to fly off your shelves: next to what seems to be a perfectly adequate $150 bread-maker,...

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Why it’s important to gather the evidence – but easy to forget it even then

Why it’s important to gather the evidence – but easy to forget it even then Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 11 May 2018. It is hard to know which is more frustrating: last week’s announcement that over the past nine years, 450,000 British women were accidentally not invited for breast cancer screening; or the widespread indifference of a howling media to the evidence that such screening is of doubtful benefit anyway. Mammograms lengthen the lives of...

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The best economics podcasts in 2018

The best economics podcasts in 2018 My favourites are: NPR’s Planet Money remains an outstanding show, with stories, humour, very clear explanations and high production values. But – horrors! – they’ve poached the amazing Cardiff Garcia from the FT, and Cardiff is co-presenting (with Stacey Vanek Smith)… …NPR’s The Indicator which is basically a shorter, chattier version of the same thing. Available daily. Works very well. A new entry is Tyler Cowen’s Conversations with Tyler....

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Cheap innovations are often better than magical ones

Cheap innovations are often better than magical ones Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 4 May 2018 If you type “technology indis…” into Google, you are instantly directed to a webpage discussing Arthur C Clarke’s third law: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The science fiction writer’s aphorism was published in 1962, at a time when a demonstration of Google’s autocompleting search engine would indeed have seemed like...

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How much would I have to pay you to quit Facebook?

How much would I have to pay you to quit Facebook? Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 27 April 2018. How much would I have to pay you to give up Facebook? What about email? Or access to search engines? I found myself asking these questions of myself during my recent trip to China, where several familiar services are blocked. But the answers to those questions have a lot to teach us, both about how the economy is doing and about how we might regulate these...

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The world is not as gloomy, or wonderful, as you may think

The world is not as gloomy, or wonderful, as you may think Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 20 April 2018. Is the glass half full, half empty, or laced with cyanide? Last week I wrote about “statistics, fast and slow” — the gap between the world as we intuitively perceive it, and the world as described in spreadsheets. Nowhere is this gap more obvious than when we are invited to reflect on whether things are going well, or badly. With some telling...

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Statistics, Fast and Slow

Statistics, Fast and Slow Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 13 April 2018. One way to understand China is to look at the statistics. Real income per person has increased nearly tenfold since 1990. Since the early 1980s, the number of extremely poor people in China has fallen by more than three-quarters of a billion people, more than half the population of the country. China consumed more cement in a recent three-year period than the US used in the entire...

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Understanding the wisdom and madness of crowds

Understanding the wisdom and madness of crowds James Surowiecki’s modern classic The Wisdom of Crowds (UK) (US) set a very high bar for the field. (Why has James not written another book?) This is one of those books that gets talked about a lot, with the emphasis on the idea that the average opinion of the crowd can be very smart indeed – hence prediction markets, etc. etc. etc. All that is true and interesting, but in fact Surowiecki discusses lots of other situations where a...

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Judge the value of what you have by what you had to give up to get it

Judge the value of what you have by what you had to give up to get it Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 6 April 2018. I’m not one to collect inspirational slogans, but here’s one I like: “Judge the value of what you have by what you had to give up to get it.” Perhaps I took it more seriously because it was pinned to the corkboard of an inspirational friend; she always seemed to be off for another expedition to Mongolia or Patagonia. But my fondness for...

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