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Tag Archives: Undercover Economist

Why we’re thinking about worst-case scenarios in the wrong way

Why we’re thinking about worst-case scenarios in the wrong way Such excitement this week. I was about to stand up to give a talk, when I received a text message: I’d been hoping for a lift back from London to Oxford, but the motorway had been closed by an accident. Normally, I’d have cycled on my folding bike to the station, then hopped on the train. But I had not expected to need my lights and cycling after dark without them seemed ill-advised. So I flagged down a black cab,...

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How this climate change economist changed my world

How this climate change economist changed my world I read a lot of economics papers, but I don’t often read economics papers that make me think, “this changes everything”. But Martin Weitzman wrote one. I still remember exactly where I was when I read it. Even for a nerd like me, that’s not normal. Professor Weitzman took his own life in late August. He was 77 and had reportedly been worried that he was losing his mental sharpness. Weitzman’s sad death prompted me to reflect on...

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When it comes to productivity hacks, are you an Arnie or an Elon?

When it comes to productivity hacks, are you an Arnie or an Elon? Returning from the summer with a head full of good intentions, I have become aware of a philosophical schism in the world of productivity hacks. In one corner, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the other, Elon Musk and the “timeboxers”. (I swear, I am not making this up.) The philosophical divide is over a simple question: how much should you schedule blocks of time in your calendar? Mr Schwarzenegger reportedly kept his...

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The curious economics of being ripped off on holiday

The curious economics of being ripped off on holiday I once wrote that there are two types of charges: the ones you see coming and the ones you don’t. Perhaps I was too reductive. There’s a third category: the fees that you know are looming, but the fog is so thick that you can’t see them clearly. Travellers are well used to these: the strange cover charge in the tourist-trap restaurant; the outrageous price of the hotel minibar and WiFi; those painful fees for flying with...

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We are all potential victims of the con artist

We are all potential victims of the con artist Denise Milani was a 32-year-old Czech swimwear model. Paul Frampton was a divorced particle physicist more than twice her age. What happened next was a tale as old as time: they met online; she sent messages by turns steamy and adoring; they arranged to meet in Bolivia, where she was doing a photo-shoot. Alas, when Prof Frampton arrived in La Paz to meet her face-to-face for the first time, she’d had to dash to another shoot in...

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Should we take a few long holidays, or lots of short ones?

Should we take a few long holidays, or lots of short ones? I know a man who used to deal with a stressful job, working 15-18 hour days in a senior role, by slipping away to a rented house near Richmond Park in London. There, he refused to be interrupted by messages except during office hours, spent time playing bridge well and golf badly, and he ensured that the location of the hideaway was a well-kept secret. The few colleagues who did visit were strictly banned from talking...

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What we get wrong about meetings – and how to make them worth attending

What we get wrong about meetings – and how to make them worth attending I rely on Google Calendar to tell me where I am supposed to be, when and with whom. When the service collapsed for an afternoon last month, it felt like a teachable moment. For a few seconds, I panicked. Then, I realised that with all the meetings gone, I was free to do some real work. I know I’m not the only person who loves to hate meetings. Will There Be Donuts?, a book by David Pearl, skewers the “Wagner...

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US health care is literally killing people

US health care is literally killing people It is astonishing how far the debate on healthcare has moved in the US, at least for the Democrats. Not long ago offering universal, government-funded healthcare was viewed as tantamount to communism; now, it’s a touchstone of many presidential hopefuls. Not before time. The US healthcare system is a monument to perverse incentives, unintended consequences and political inertia. It is astonishingly bad — indeed, it’s so astonishingly...

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The strange power of the idea of “average”

The strange power of the idea of “average” “While nothing is more uncertain than a single life, nothing is more certain than the average duration of a thousand lives.” The statement is often attributed to the 19th-century mathematician Elizur Wright, who not coincidentally was a life insurance geek. But buried in the aphorism is a humdrum word concealing a powerful idea: the “average”. The idea of taking an average — that is, of adding up (say) a hundred lifespans and dividing...

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How economics can raise its game

How economics can raise its game How can economics become a more insightful discipline? Should it aim to be more like physics, with its precision and predictive power? Or should economists emulate anthropologists or historians, immersing themselves in the details of the particular and the unquantifiable? There’s a case to be made either way. Some critics argue that economics is missing better physics: it got stuck in the 19th century with fusty old ideas like marginal analysis...

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