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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run--or Ruin--an Economy Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
I came to be a fan of Tim Harford through his podcasts, "More or Less: Behind the Stats" and "Pop Up Ideas". I was eager to read this book, because I am a big fan of the way the podcasts explore ideas and make sense of numbers in the news, and I've recently developed an amateur interest in economics. I was not disappointed.
One word of advice to the reader: throughout the book, Harford explicitly uses the conceit that he is speaking directly to you (who have been chosen to run a world economy) and that you are answering him. I found that jarring, but it was easy to put aside by imagining that instead of participating in a conversation, I was merely observing one.
The book explores macroeconomic ideas in an engaging way, and the dialog style allows the author to take the occasional left turn away from the topic at hand into an interesting cul-de-sac before jumping back on track. Most of the material is readily accessible if you have an interest in current events (no economic theory needed), though the discussion of the Beveridge curve could really have done with at least one diagram.
The entire discussion is bookended with by elements of the story of Bill Phillips, a tinkerer, war hero, hydraulics engineer, and eventually an influential economist who created a very cool machine—the MONIAC, or Monetary National Income Analogue Computer—that solved economic differential equations with water. His story is a highlight of the book, and is told largely in the first chapter.
Overall, this is a very accessible and non-technical introduction to macroeconomics, which is a especially nice since much of the material I've come across recently online, in podcasts, and in books has been on microeconomics or behavioral economics.
- Great quotes from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
- A nice debunking of Krugman's babysitting coop rant.
- A great discussion of Radford's POW camp article.
- A very pedagogical comparison of the classical and Keynesian views of recessions, concluding on an ironic note (but see below for a minus): « Sometimes an economy’s output is constrained by the demand for goods and services (Keynes’s Law) and sometimes it is constrained by their potential supply (Say’s Law). It sounds like neither of them are really laws at all. Yup. This is social science—what did you expect? » ... « But there is also a really simple way to combine the two views. We need to introduce a concept you’ll hear discussed often in economics—the “short run” and the “long run.” Most economists would agree that in the short run, it is Keynes’s Law that is relevant. And most economists would also agree that in the long run, it is Say’s Law that counts. »
- A thought provoking discussion of the question Can Growth Continue Forever?: « Energy growth is not the same as economic growth [...] It’s easy to grasp why exponential economic growth is not the same as exponential energy growth. If I’m worried about money, I may turn off my heating and wear a coat and hat indoors; a bit of extra money will mean I take off the hat and coat and use more energy.Read more ›
Sadly the cover of the edition I have has a quote from Alex Bellos suggesting that Harford could be Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell. While Harford has some similarities to Gladwell in that both write excellent infotainment Harford is much better because he writes over a more limited subject area but with much greater depth of knowledge.
The book covers recessions, money, inflation, stimulus, output gaps, unemployment, management, GDP, happiness and endless economic growth. It covers all with such aplomb that it’s hard to pick out the best bit.
Stylistically Harford uses a dialogue and also has the wonderful character of the economist Bill Phillips to provide a narrative core for the book. It all works.
This book is a delight to read.
In order to fix the economy, we need to understand the economy. The book is a "practically minded poke-around under the hood of our economic system." It's a sequel to The Undercover Economist , which looked at microeconomics. The first book looked at the cost of coffee and other focused topics that affect an individual's behavior.
The Undercover Economist Strikes Back tackles the world and the uncertainty of macroeconomics. These are the big forces of gross domestic product, inflation, and unemployment. Rather a droll, laborious discussion of complex theories, Harford keeps things witty and perky.
The book is not about bashing big banks or pointing fingers at who caused the financial crisis of 2008. But he does discuss the macroeconomic forces in light of the recovery (or lack thereof) from the 2008 crisis.
He does not try to oversimplify the topics. He cautions that they are difficult to understand, difficult to calculate, and difficult to get right. He offers advice and lessons from history.
He explains the theory of currency with the extraordinary example of the rai used by the Yap islanders in Micronesia. Each rai is a stone wheel, the biggest of which is nine feet across and weighs over four tons. That will help you buy land. Smaller ones, a mere foot or two across will buy you a pig. The islanders still use the currency even if it has sunk to the bottom of the bay while being transported in a boat. Given the small number of transactions, the islanders can just keep track who owns which stone, without having to move the big ones.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Tim Harford is a terrific expositor of modern economics. I teach economics and have read all of his books and always learn something new and useful to incorporate in my classes. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Bryan L. Boulier
For what this is, you'd do just as well to pick up something a bit meatier.
This book is only suitable for people who have not taken a semester long course in... Read more
Excellent book, explains the macro economic by examples that you can relate to in your daily life. A real eye opener, changed my mind about how the common sense approach to solving... Read morePublished 9 months ago by No Coby
The information was good but the conversation style format was difficult to follow.Published 11 months ago by Jason O. Munshower
Good for someone trying to understand fundamental macro-economics. No specific insights.Published 11 months ago by Ankur Kothari
Basic macroeconomics with an emphasis on ideas rather than shifting curves. Excellent for the curious layperson or as a complement to standard undergraduate macro texts.Published 11 months ago by Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya
A refreshingly candid presentation of the world of Macro economics.Published 13 months ago by sanjeebk