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Tag Archives: Undercover Economist

How the US is weaponising the world economy

How the US is weaponising the world economy Back in 2002, serious people were worried about the possibility of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. Millions might have died — and the prospect seemed real enough that both the US and the UK advised their citizens to flee the region. How, then, was the crisis defused? Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, is fond of telling the story that US businesses (in particular Dell) told their Indian suppliers (in...

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What to do when blessings come well-disguised

What to do when blessings come well-disguised Keith Jarrett’s 1975 concert in Cologne should have been a musical catastrophe. Owing to a string of mix-ups and bad luck, he was faced with the choice of attempting his widely admired improvisations on a beaten-up old piano with sticky keys and a harsh upper register — or walking out altogether. He was all for walking out, but felt sorry for the concert promoter and agreed to play the unplayable piano against his better judgment....

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The dying art of compromise

The dying art of compromise I don’t often find myself agreeing with Esther McVey, but I wondered this week whether the candidate for leader of the UK Conservative party might accidentally have spoken the truth: “People saying we need a Brexit policy to bring people together are misreading the situation. That is clearly not possible.” The British do indeed seem in no mood to compromise. The results of elections to the European Parliament produced a thunderous endorsement of...

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Why brilliant people lose their touch

Why brilliant people lose their touch It hasn’t been a great couple of years for Neil Woodford — and it has been just as miserable for the people who have entrusted money to his investment funds. Mr Woodford was probably the most celebrated stockpicker in the UK, but recently his funds have been languishing. Piling on the woes, Morningstar, a rating agency, downgraded his flagship fund this week. What has happened to the darling of the investment community? Mr Woodford isn’t the...

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The Doris Day effect – when obstacles help us

The Doris Day effect – when obstacles help us She had hoped to become a ballet dancer. After her leg was shattered in an accident at the age of 15, she took singing lessons instead. It was a striking detail in the obituaries. If not for that painful setback, the star that was Doris Day would never have risen. Was the car accident that redirected her career an extraordinary twist in the story of an extraordinary life? Or was it typical of some broader truth about life, that...

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Why we should favour second guesses over first instincts…

Why we should favour second guesses over first instincts… Tension is rising in the Harford household as exams approach and we try to persuade Miss Harford Sr to relax, and Miss Harford Jr to be slightly less relaxed. I’m sure many readers have vivid memories of the exam room, recent or otherwise. But here’s a question about exam technique that suggests a much wider lesson. In a multiple-choice test, you sometimes write down an answer and then have second thoughts. Is it wise to...

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The clash of the two cultures and the challenge of collaboration

The clash of the two cultures and the challenge of collaboration May 7 was the 60th anniversary of the delivery of CP Snow’s famous lecture, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. It is dimly remembered as a lament about the mutual incomprehension between arts and sciences, wrapped up with some pompous anecdotes about Oxbridge high table and airy generalisations about the dynamism of scientists. Some of it is absurd. Snow dismisses George Orwell’s 1984 as pure Luddism,...

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Why going on holiday gives us more memories

Why going on holiday gives us more memories Lucky me. I’ve just returned from a family holiday in that most exotic of countries, Japan. So many fresh sights and strange tastes: from flower gardens, temples and communal baths to robots, bullet trains and the Kawaii Monster Café. Although we were there barely more than a week, it’s hard to believe we packed so much in. While on an adventurous holiday, many people experience that strange sense of time having slowed down in the most...

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Is Thanos a good model for economists? On balance, no

Is Thanos a good model for economists? On balance, no In a few days’ time, Avengers: Endgame will hit the cinemas, and the universe’s mightiest heroes will resume their battle against the supervillain Thanos. Thanos fascinates me not only because he’s the best bad guy since Darth Vader — but because the muscular utilitarian is an economist on steroids. Thanos’s claim to the economists’ hall of fame lies in his interest in scarce resources, his faith in the power of logical...

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Why the world needs a carbon tax

Why the world needs a carbon tax You can’t please everyone, it seems. Royal Dutch Shell has announced plans to plant trees in order to absorb some of the carbon dioxide produced when we burn the fossil fuels it sells. What’s more, it plans to invite motorists to chip in at the pump by buying “carbon offsets”: a clever way to help the planet, raise cash, and spread the blame around. Environmental campaigners are sceptical. So am I. I admit an interest here. I once worked for...

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