Synopses & Reviews
An economist's version of The Way Things Work
, this engaging volume is part field guide to economics and part expose of the economic principles lurking behind daily events, explaining everything from traffic jams to high coffee prices.
The Undercover Economist is for anyone who's wondered why the gap between rich and poor nations is so great, or why they can't seem to find a decent second-hand car, or how to outwit Starbucks. This book offers the hidden story behind these and other questions, as economist Tim Harford ranges from Africa, Asia, Europe, and of course the United States to reveal how supermarkets, airlines, and coffee chains--to name just a few--are vacuuming money from our wallets. Harford punctures the myths surrounding some of today's biggest controversies, including the high cost of health-care; he reveals why certain environmental laws can put a smile on a landlord's face; and he explains why some industries can have high profits for innocent reasons, while in other industries something sinister is going on. Covering an array of economic concepts including scarce resources, market power, efficiency, price gouging, market failure, inside information, and game theory, Harford sheds light on how these forces shape our day-to-day lives, often without our knowing it.
Showing us the world through the eyes of an economist, Tim Harford reveals that everyday events are intricate games of negotiations, contests of strength, and battles of wits. Written with a light touch and sly wit, The Undercover Economist turns "the dismal science" into a true delight.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This is a book to savor."--Richard Lowenstein, New York Times
"A worthy and often entertaining attempt to render 'the dismal science' considerably less dismal."--Warren Bass, Washington Post Book World
"A playful guide to the economics of everyday life, and as such is something of an elder sibling to Steven Levitt's wild child, the hugely successful Freakonomics.... Harford does not take himself too seriously. He is at his best illuminating the economics of small things.... In general, as befits a covert operative, his tone is quizzical and low-key, rather than bombastic and judgmental. For anyone schooled in blackboard economics, The Undercover Economist succeeds in taking the chalkdust out of the subject."--The Economist
"The Undercover Economist is a rare specimen: a book on economics that will enthrall its readers. Beautifully written and argued, it brings the power of economics to life. This book should be required reading for every elected official, business leader, and university student."--Steven D. Levitt, Professor of Economics, University of Chicago, and author of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
"Beautifully written.... An Economics 101 class, taught by the most popular professor on campus. Harford shows readers how to think like an economist, demonstrating how theories like David Ricardo's 1817 treatise on farm rents can be applied to coffee shop locations and the cost of oil.... If the ideas are allowed to penetrate, to sink into the arid topsoil of a mind too long out of school, they can change the way a reader sees the world. Once you understand that a 'green belt' of undeveloped land around a city drives up rents, you start seeing green belts everywhere."--Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Sun-Times
"Harford writes like a dream--and is also one of the leading economic thinkers of his generation. From his book I found out why there's a Starbucks on every corner, what Bob Geldof needs to learn to make development aid work properly, and how not to get duped in an auction. Reading The Undercover Economist is like spending an ordinary day wearing X-ray goggles."--David Bodanis, author of E=mc2 and Electric Universe
"Informative and engaging.... Readers will find out why organic tomatoes are almost never found next to regular tomatoes at the supermarket, who really benefits from tariffs, and how China became an overnight economic success. A great choice for all public libraries."--Library Journal
"Harford's fetching book is part a field guide to economics in action and part an expose of Economics 101 principles lurking beneath the action.... He is out to convert his reader into a more savvy consumer, no matter how hard advertising puffs, and into a more savvy voter able to dig out the truth behind the tall stories that politicians may tell."--William H. Peterson, Washington Times
"If you need to be convinced of the ever-relevant and fascinating nature of economics, read this insightful and witty book by Tim Harford. Using one interesting example after another, The Undercover Economist demonstrates how economic reasoning--often esoteric and dull, but totally accessible in Harford's hands--helps illuminate the world around us. Indeed, Harford's book is a tour de force." --Jagdish Bhagwati, Professor of Economics, Columbia University, and author of In Defense of Globalization
"As Tim Harford demonstrates brilliantly in this enjoyable book, the powerful underlying ideas of economics can, in the hands of the right person, illuminate every aspect of the world we inhabit."--Martin Wolf, Associate Editor and Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times, and author of Why Globalization Works
"Most people think economists are boring, opinionated and wrong. Tim Harford is often right, always opinionated, but never boring. He shows how economics can be used to illuminate our everyday lives. Whether you want an explanation of the price of a cup of coffee or of poverty in the third world, Harford has it all."--John Kay, author of The Truth About Markets
About the Author
writes the "Dear Economist" column in the Financial Times Magazine
, in which he draws upon the latest economic theories to provide tongue-in-cheek answers to readers' personal dilemmas. Formerly an economics editorial writer at the Financial Times
, Harford has worked at the International Finance Corporation, for a major oil company, and as an economics tutor at Oxford University. He lives in Washington DC.