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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run--or Ruin--an Economy by [Harford, Tim]
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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run--or Ruin--an Economy Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Length: 273 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Economist Tim Harford has made a career of demystifying many of the central assumptions of economic thinkers and policy makers—the sort of endeavor that’s likely to get you barred from exclusive DC social gatherings if done right. […] Harford’s latest book, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, expands the range of his analysis to take in the broader sweep of macroeconomic planning. […] Harford’s style is accessible, engaging, warm, witty, and fun, and he takes us on a romp through some of the denser thickets of macroeconomic thinking. […] Along the way, Harford takes on more than a few quasi-sacred shibboleths in our current economic and political environment. —Helaine Olen


"Every Tim Harford book is cause for celebration. He makes ‘the dismal science’ seem like an awful lot of fun.”
– Malcolm Gladwell

“With fascinating examples and vivid explanations, Tim Harford succeeds in turning macroeconomics into a gripping read.”
—Simon Singh, author of Fermat’s Last Theorem

"Tim Harford is perhaps our very best popular economics writer, and with this book he turns his attention to inflation, unemployment, business cycles, and macroeconomics, with lucid clarity and compelling insight."
—Tyler Cowen, author of Create Your Own Economy and The Great Stagnation

"Tim Harford is a brave man to write a book about macroeconomics for the lay person; luckily, he is also a funny man...his perky style and chatty asides keep us grinning... [and he] has a knack for posing questions the average reader will have wondered about."
Wall Street Journal

"Harford has a knack for writing about economic issues in a clear and gripping way."
Worth Magazine

“Harford brings vigor and even humor to otherwise dry topics…[and] clarity to what has often been comprehensible to only a select few.”
Publishers Weekly  

“Independent thinkers aspiring to a better understanding of the world economy and of possible fixes for the current downturn will delight in this crisp, readable, and knowledgeable explication and analysis of macroeconomic events and theoretical perspectives.”
Library Journal 

“By the end of this book, you'll have learned so much that you'll be just as confused as the experts – and anything but bored.”
The Christian Science Monitor 

“Tim Harford is perhaps the best popular economics writer in the world… what [he] has achieved with his new book is nothing less than the holy grail of popular economics. While retaining the accessible style of popular microeconomics, he has managed to explain, with clarity and good humour, the knottiest and most important problems facing the world’s biggest economies today.”
The New Statesman

“With beguiling clarity and…effortlessly breezy style… Harford explains the subject with impressive clarity and wit.”
The Times (London)


Product Details

  • File Size: 1140 KB
  • Print Length: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (January 16, 2014)
  • Publication Date: January 16, 2014
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DMCV624
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,528 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
**I received an uncorrected proof copy of the 2014 paperback edition of this book through a LibraryThing giveaway.**

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.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is very well written and educational, as Tim Harford has led his readers to expect. At times, it is a bit heavy on the storytelling style. Overall, it does a nice job explaining a lay reader how economists think about the big macro issues such as growth, recessions and unemployment. I list what I view as some pluses and minuses of the book below.


- 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.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The Undercover Economist Strikes Back (2013) by Tim Harford is another excellent book from a superb economics writer. This book covers macroeconomics and presents a Socratic dialogue where Harford discusses how to run a modern economy. This sort of dialogue is often contrite. However Harford manages through his mastery of the subject and by being reasonable, skeptical and carefully presenting both sides of an argument to make it highly informative and enjoyable.
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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 Macroeconomics. If you have, then you can skip this.

As far as picking up something meatier, the books that I have in mind are any of three:

1. Basic Economics
2. Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One
3. Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

This book comes across as a bit too breezy and working a bit too hard to be funny/ approachable.

For people who have already read on this topic a bit (like the present reader), the book comes across as a shill for Keynesian economics. And even after all that, the author does a lot of hemming and hawing about how stable and predictable is the Keynesian multiplier. He spends the first third of the book building up the idea of inflation and nominal growth and real growth and then finishes by saying that "We don't really know what the multiplier is." Give me a break.

Later, he does actually get around to discussing some classical economics, but only after he has built up Keynes first.

Harford also spends time blowtorching James Rickards (whose books I have read/ am reading) and people who like the idea of the gold standard.
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