Tim Harford The Undercover Economist


If it doesn’t fit anywhere else, it’s here.


AIB Award for Radio Journalism 2015

I’ve just been told that the BBC World Service has won this year’s Association for International Broadcasting Radio Journalism award for its coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. A live special I presented with Solomon Mugera, featuring Hans Rosling and Margaret Lamunu and produced by Ruth Alexander, was singled out for praise. The World Service richly deserves the award and I’m delighted to have made a contribution.

7th of November, 2015MarginaliaComments off

Society of Business Economists writing prize

I’m delighted to report that the Society of Business Economists has awarded me the  Rybczynski Prize for 2014-15. This is the society’s annual prize for the best economics writing of relevance to a business audience. It”s a great honour.

26th of May, 2015MarginaliaComments off

Paying to Get Inside A Restaurant

Me, writing in May’s edition of The Atlantic:

The next time you’re fortunate enough to have dinner at a high-end restaurant, take a moment to enjoy not only the food and wine, but the frisson of a really good puzzle: Why do restaurants price things the way they do?

The markup on food makes sense. It takes time and skill to prepare the perfect cold-smoked salmon with balsamic-vinegar sorbet. But why are the wine prices so inflated? How hard can it be to pop open a bottle? Meanwhile, restroom access is free and unlimited for customers—a curious cross-subsidy.

Most mysterious of all: When reservations at hot new restaurants are so sought-after, why are they simply given away?

Why indeed? The full article is here and free to read online.

23rd of April, 2015MarginaliaOther WritingComments off

Some upcoming talks

A few talks coming up – please contact event organisers for details if you would like to come:

3 Feb 2015: PPE Society, Oxford

5 Feb 2015: London School of Economics: “How to See Into The Future”

25 Feb 2015: I interview Alastair Campbell and Lord Browne: http://event.ft-live.com/ehome/index.php?eventid=116062&

10 March 2015: Queen Mary University of London (tbc)

17 March 2015: Kings College London Economics and Finance Society

23 March 2015 (subject to confirmation): Oxford Literary Festival

27th of January, 2015MarginaliaSpeechesComments off

Economics commentator of the Year

Yesterday I was named Economics Commentator of the Year. That feels jolly grown up, especially given the splendid people on the short-list and the list of previous winners. I’ll enjoy it, though! (A list of other comment award winners is here.)

26th of November, 2014MarginaliaComments off

“An evening with Tim Harford”

…sounds like the world’s worst date, but in fact I’ll be talking about my book “The Undercover Economist Strikes Back”, which I hope will be a lot more fun.

It’s on 24 April, 6.30pm in central London – full details here.

Prospect Magazine is organising and I am afraid there is a ticket price, but it’s a small venue and there will be drinks laid on. Come along if you like that sort of thing!

If you don’t fancy paying money, here’s a FREE video of me speaking about “How to Prevent Financial Meltdowns”.

10th of April, 2014MarginaliaSpeechesVideoComments off

The economics of love

If you’re looking for Valentine’s Day inspiration, you could try:

“Everything I ever needed to know about Economics I learned from online dating” – Paul Oyer (Buy in UK; Buy in US) – A guide to economic ideas pegged on the author’s experience trying to get a date online. It’s fun without being revelatory.

“Marriage: A History” – Stephanie Coontz. (Buy in UK; Buy in US) – A weighty but fascinating history.

“Dear Undercover Economist” – My favourite letters from the “Dear Economist” column (Buy in UKBuy in US). Obviously this book is absolutely marvelous in every way.




The WSJ reviews The Undercover Economist Strikes Back

“A chatty, witty guide to inflation, gross domestic product and the rest of the economic big picture.” says Roger Lowenstein:

Tim Harford is a brave man to write a book about macroeconomics for the lay person; luckily, he is also a funny man. It is faintly embarrassing to reveal that I giggled in bed while reading “The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run—or Ruin—an Economy.” But though his perky style and chatty asides keep us grinning, it would be wrong to call him a pop economics writer. His quarry isn’t the freakish or bizarre—it is stuff you will see in textbooks.

His hope is to explain what makes the economy tick. He isn’t out to identify villains in the financial crisis (a welcome respite), and he doesn’t fault economists for failing to predict it. We should think of economists like dentists, he says: When something is wrong, they try to fix it.

Mr. Harford, a columnist for the Financial Times, has a knack for posing questions the average reader will have wondered about. (In fact, he frames the book as a dialogue between himself and a policy-curious bureaucrat.) Why couldn’t government solve unemployment by creating useless work? Why is money that is merely paper valued?

The full review is here; you can read other reviews and buy the book here.

17th of January, 2014MarginaliaComments off

The New Statesman (@felixsalmon) reviews The Undercover Economist Strikes Back

I think the review will go online in due course. [Update: The full review is here.] These extracts are from the print edition:

Tim Harford is perhaps the best popular economics writer in the world… He has a breezy writing style and an infectious sense of humour – but he doesn’t let himself go further than a sober, conservative economist would be comfortable going. He’s trustworthy in a way that most other commentators on economics aren’t. He is not particularly interested in political arguments or in imposing his views on others – instead, he just wants to explain, as simply and clearly as possible, the way in which the economics profession as a whole usually looks at the workings of the world… No one is going to come away from reading this book convinced that they know how to run an economy. Instead, what Harford 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. He is no fatalist when it comes to macro: it is important; there are things we know are true; there are things we know are false; what we do can and does make a tangible difference to how wealthy and happy we become. He explains these things in an unprecedentedly accessible way, making liberal use of quotations from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dr Strangelove. By the end of it all, you will understand everything from liquidity traps to the Lucas critique – and your eyes won’t glaze over when reading about such things. Harford has written the “macroeconomics for beginners” book we have all been waiting for…

Felix Salmon blogs at Reuters. If the full review goes online I’ll post a link.


More or Less wins the Royal Statistical Society award for excellence in broadcast journalism

I’m delighted about this:

The winners of the 2013 awards for statistical excellence in journalism have been announced. Journalists at The Times, The Detail and BBC Radio 4 have been commended for their work. The awards, now in their seventh year, are made in three categories – print, broadcast and online – and recognise work first published or broadcast in the preceding calendar year.

…In the broadcast category, BBC Radio 4’s “More or Less” programme presented by Tim Harford is the winner. The judges considered this to be a really informative exploration of the contentious issue of waiting times at UK borders during the Olympics and the contrasting estimates of different agencies. They particularly highlighted how choice of data can have a big impact on the story that is told.

It’s the fourth year in succession that the More or Less team has been commended by the Royal Statistical Society for its excellence in journalism. We won outright this year and in 2010. Very chuffed for the team.



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