Sunday , April 22 2018
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Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

The past, present and future of banking

The past, present and future of banking (Business seals; Rishengchang Museum.) Not long ago I was fortunate enough to visit the Rishengchang in Pingyao – which I tentatively understand to be the oldest “draft” bank in China, allowing merchants to send money across the nation. Pingyao is well worth a visit, if ever happen to be in that part of China. It put me to thinking about some fine histories of money and banking I’ve read in the past few years. I knew a little about the...

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Stephen Hawking’s restless scientific curiosity pulled us all in

Stephen Hawking’s restless scientific curiosity pulled us all in A few months ago, my teenage daughter and I went to see a lecture by Stephen Hawking at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute. The event had been postponed once because he was unwell; I worried that his body might finally give out, albeit five decades later than doctors had expected. Yet a new date was set and Hawking duly arrived, as if from another world, to deliver a spellbinding talk in his distinctive synthetic...

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In praise of Factfulness

In praise of Factfulness “I use normal statistics that are compiled by the World Bank and the United Nations. This is not controversial. These facts are not up for discussion. I am right and you are wrong.” That was Hans Rosling, delivering a celebrated smackdown  on Danish television to a journalist with an excessively gloomy view of the world. And although the quote displays just one facet of the the late Professor Rosling, it isn’t a bad place to start in considering his...

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My favourite indy projects

My favourite indy projects I am, of course, not sure what the definition of “indy” really is these days, but I’ll leave that one to the philosophers. I’ve written before about Can You Brexit? (Without breaking Britain) (UK) (US) – a fabulous, well-researched and very funny choose-your-own-story gamebook by Dave Morris and Jamie Thompson. It casts you in the role of the Prime Minister the morning after the Brexit referendum, in a parallel but highly-recognisable universe. (The...

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A clever nudge to improve diversity

A clever nudge to improve diversity In the introduction to my book, The Undercover Economist, I invite readers to imagine that, as they leaf through the pages, there’s an economist sitting nearby. Because he’s an economist, he sees things — hidden patterns, curious puzzles — that they might not notice. The book had been out for a decade when a young economist wrote to me. She had a simple question: why was my undercover economist a “he”? I was reminded of the question this week...

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Five of the best introductions to economics

Five of the best introductions to economics I’m often asked which economics books I recommend to someone who wants to get a good introduction to the subject. There are some obvious choices – a good textbook, for example – and of course I wrote The Undercover Economist (UK) (US) and The Undercover Economist Strikes Back (UK) (US) to be the very best introductions to microeconomics and macroeconomics I could manage. But of course there’s so much more, and I wanted to make a few...

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How referendums break democracies

How referendums break democracies The Dutch parliament have just agreed to abolish advisory referendums. I don’t blame them. I did not much care for the result of the latest referendum that was held in the UK, so I confess to disliking referendums with the fervour of a sore loser. The winners no doubt feel more cheerful about the idea but even they may agree with this: the campaigning process was corrosive, and the consequences for the health of British politics have been even...

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“Basic income is about the freedom to say no” – Rutger Bregman goes bouldering

“Basic income is about the freedom to say no” – Rutger Bregman goes bouldering “You have the instinct for it,” says Rutger Bregman, as I haul myself up an indoor climbing wall, nestled under the arches at Vauxhall station in London. “Shit, this is some talent!” he bellows, as I reach the top. I am inwardly delighted, even though I realise the praise is absurd: I have climbed about four metres and it’s a beginner’s route. Bregman has suggested that we go bouldering together....

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Zombie companies walk among us

Zombie companies walk among us For vampires, the weakness is garlic. For werewolves, it’s a silver bullet. And for zombies? Perhaps a rise in interest rates will do the trick. Economists have worried about “zombie companies” for decades. Timothy Taylor, editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, has followed a trail of references back to 1989, noting sightings of these zombies in Japan from the 1990s, and more recently in China. The fundamental concern is that there are...

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Messy – the joy of chaos

Messy – the joy of chaos If you’ve been waiting for the UK publication of “Messy” in paperback, your patience has finally been rewarded! Sorry it’s taken so long; there was the small matter of an epic history of technology and economics to deal with along the way. ‘Utterly fascinating. Tim Harford shows that if you want to be creative and resilient, you need a little more disorder in your world. It’s a masterful case for the life-changing magic of cluttering up’ – Adam Grant...

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