Monday , August 21 2017
Home / Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

What underrated idea or invention most shaped the modern economy?

What underrated idea or invention most shaped the modern economy? It’s been such fun working on the radio series and book Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy – but one of the frustrations was all the fascinating ideas, inventions and stories that I couldn’t squeeze into the book. I get another bite of the cherry now: the BBC is inviting suggestions for a special episode: one more thing that shaped the economic forces that surround us and changed the way we live, spend or...

Read More »

Challenge is all too easily ducked by today’s knowledge workers

Challenge is all too easily ducked by today’s knowledge workers “The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same . . . generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” This anxiety about the stupefying effects of cog-in-a-machine manufacturing sounds like a line from Karl Marx. It is, in fact, from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. As the anniversary of...

Read More »

Remembering the holocaust

Remembering the holocaust Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading some books about the holocaust. I never dreamed that all this would become so relevant. Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir Maus (UK) (US) is brilliant, devastating, and occasionally very funny. Spiegelman’s father and mother, Vladek and Anja, survived Auschwitz against dreadful odds. Anja later killed herself. The contrast between the elderly Vladek – weak, needy, apparently socially clueless – and the younger...

Read More »

Think like a supermodel if you want to win from the gig economy

Think like a supermodel if you want to win from the gig economy Are we misunderstanding the endgame of the annoyingly named “gig economy”? At the behest of the UK government, Matthew Taylor’s review of modern working practices was published this week. The title could easily have graced a report from the 1930s, and the review is in many ways a conservative document, seeking to be “up to date” while preserving “enduring principles of fairness”. Mr Taylor, chief executive of the...

Read More »

Fantasy gaming can be better than reality

Fantasy gaming can be better than reality “The only thing that can make me happy is computer games!” So declares my five-year-old son, tears streaming down his cheeks, with a vehement desperation that merely encourages me to ration this potent experience. I don’t recall my own parents restricting the time I spent gaming, but then I didn’t have access to computers until I was nearly 10, with the arrival of an Oric-1, with 8 glorious colours and a magnificent 48K of memory. Maybe...

Read More »

We are still waiting for the robot revolution

We are still waiting for the robot revolution The cash machine turned 50 this week — old enough, I think, to teach us a few lessons about the dawning of a new machine age. It seems a good advertisement for practical innovation that makes life a little easier. But with its very name a promise to replace a human being, the “automated teller machine” seems a harbinger of mass technological unemployment. The story of the robot takeover has become familiar: robots came first for the...

Read More »

Why we need to build more homes

Why we need to build more homes If we were living in a movie, the ash-blackened cage looming over West London would be a metaphor for something. Instead, the Grenfell Tower disaster — so catastrophic that we are told we may never know how many people died — is a distinctly un-metaphorical national disgrace. The least we can do now is learn the lessons of the fire, as we did not after the Lakanal House fire of 2009, which killed six people. Some of those lessons should emerge...

Read More »

Three great books about getting the important things done

Three great books about getting the important things done I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about getting things done, and at the top of my list is Cal Newport’s remarkable book Deep Work. (US) (UK) Newport makes a persuasive case that our success in the world of work is often dependent on the amount of time we can devote to serious, deep thinking. This isn’t true for every job, of course, but it’s true for many. (Management is an obvious exception, an example of a...

Read More »

Wishful thinking in politics is a recipe for foolishness

Wishful thinking in politics is a recipe for foolishness Shortly after the hilarious UK election, I had the opportunity to ask a Conservative politician (retired, centrist) what he made of the result. “Good news for a soft Brexit,” was one of his conclusions. That was my impression, too. Since both of us were Remainers, it was a comforting thought. And then I reflected for a moment. Back when Theresa May was expected to secure a stonking majority, wasn’t that also supposed to be...

Read More »

If your country lets you down, make a new one

If your country lets you down, make a new one Forget Brexit: I’m declaring independence from the rest of the UK. I’ll always have a deep and special connection with the land where I was born and grew up. Nevertheless, I’m taking back control, just as soon as I can figure out what that means. I also need to choose a name for the divorce process. “Texit” sounds like a fajita laced with pesticide. “Hexit” is better, with something of the evil eye about it. Then there’s just the...

Read More »