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The Undercover Economist Paperback – January 30, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Nattily packaged-the cover sports a Roy Lichtensteinesque image of an economist in Dick Tracy garb-and cleverly written, this book applies basic economic theory to such modern phenomena as Starbucks' pricing system and Microsoft's stock values. While the concepts explored are those encountered in Microeconomics 101, Harford gracefully explains abstruse ideas like pricing along the demand curve and game theory using real world examples without relying on graphs or jargon. The book addresses free market economic theory, but Harford is not a complete apologist for capitalism; he shows how companies from Amazon.com to Whole Foods to Starbucks have gouged consumers through guerrilla pricing techniques and explains the high rents in London (it has more to do with agriculture than one might think). Harford comes down soft on Chinese sweatshops, acknowledging "conditions in factories are terrible," but "sweatshops are better than the horrors that came before them, and a step on the road to something better." Perhaps, but Harford doesn't question whether communism or a capitalist-style industrial revolution are the only two choices available in modern economies. That aside, the book is unequaled in its accessibility and ability to show how free market economic forces affect readers' day-to-day.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Harford exposes the dark underbelly of capitalism in Undercover Economist. Compared with Steven Levitts and Stephen J. Dubners popular Freakonomics (*** July/Aug 2005), the book uses simple, playful examples (written in plain English) to elucidate complex economic theories. Critics agree that the book will grip readers interested in understanding free-market forces but disagree about Harfords approach. Some thought the author mastered the small ideas while keeping in sight the larger context of globalization; others faulted Harford for failing to criticize certain economic theories and to ground his arguments in political, organizational structures. Either way, his case studiessome entertaining, others indicative of times to comewill make you think twice about that cup of coffee.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top customer reviews
Tim Harford is an economist from England who pushes a free-trade, pro-globalization agenda. In fact two of the five authors with quotes on the back cover have pro-globalization books in their `Author of' section. The second to the last chapter is a hard sell of globalization and the final chapter is a portrait of the happy results of globalization in China. Harford also comes down on taxes saying they are inefficient and destroy competitiveness. Instead of a progressive income tax he argues in support of a flat sales tax. It all sounds like a sale of conservative economics which isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as it's done with honesty and clear thinking (many conservative economists have such an ideological bias that they become useless).
The author spends a chapter on healthcare in the United States and demonstrates how flawed it is. The system is hugely expensive, highly bureaucratic, extremely patchy and unpopular to most American's. Harford writes, "United States government alone spends more than the combination of public and private expenditure in Britain, despite the fact that the British government provides free health care to all residents" In fact no country spends more as a percentage of the GDP as American's. Not even close. And as a final kick in the teeth American's aren't even particularly healthy when compared to the rest of the developed nations. However, rather than look to his own country's model for health care or Germany's or Canada's Mr. Harford looks to Singapore. It seems as if the author has mind melded with the Bush administration in believing that American's are over insured and need to look into Health Savings Accounts which to the best of my knowledge don't address ANY of the problems the author recounted. The book contains some real insight on why health insurance is often incompatible with a market based economy but the idea that we should just scrap it in favor of only catastrophic health insurance seems to deny that anyone could possibly be nickeled and dimed into poverty.
The author also has some interesting views on handling pollution. The idea is that companies can buy the right to pollute using vouchers. Initially it seems to be a horrible idea but the thinking is that since businesses regularly inflate the cost of keeping clean we ask them to put their money where there mouth is. If the vouchers cost enough businesses will try to find cheap ways to stay under the emissions threshold rather than pay the voucher cost and the problem is solved in a very market based manner. On the other hand the author tends to discount environmentalism as a small cost (2 percent of manufacturing) and of little real concern to businesses. If this is true than why do business interests in the United States spend millions on think tanks and lobbying if it's no big deal? Global Warming is a huge deal and business seems willing to do just about anything to suppress legislation.
Besides globalization the author doesn't seem to really be an ideologue. He is clearly a fan of market based economies but admits that participants often don't act sensibly. He's no cheerleader for the stock market by pointing out that price to earning ratios of companies are still vastly inflated and gives a great explanation on why internet companies lack any scarcity power making their ridiculous stock values in the late 90's look like nothing more than a fools dream. The Underground Economist is a very good book. Unlike Freakonomics it is legitimately an economics book and most assuredly has an agenda. Not that that's a bad thing.
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