Tim Harford The Undercover Economist



Come and see live economics storytelling at St Pancras Station…

This is the second recording session for my brand new series, “Pop Up Economics”. Come along – it’s free and it will be lots of fun.

12.45pm, St Pancras Station, 14 January.


Details, and for free tickets, here.

EDIT: Sorry – oversubscribed five times over within a day. Gosh. Thanks to all who applied and I hope we get a chance to do some more. Listen out on Radio 4, 8.45pm, Wednesday from 16 January!

2nd of January, 2013MarginaliaRadioSpeechesComments off

Come and see me record a brand new radio show about economics!

I’m delighted to announce that the BBC will be broadcasting a brand new show called “Pop Up Economics” – just me telling short stories about important people and ideas in economics. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll optimise. Come along!

The first recording is in central London, near Piccadilly Circus.

Date: Tuesday 4th December.

Time: Drinks at 18.30. Recording starts 19.15 sharp.


Please email xxx to get your e-ticket and the venue details. First come, first served!



EDIT: All gone – sorry. There’ll be another event in January. Watch this space. – TH

29th of November, 2012MarginaliaRadioSpeechesComments off

A failure tour of New York

NPR’s Planet Money took me on a tour recently. Listen here.

On today’s Planet Money, we hit the streets of Manhattan with economist Tim Harford. In his new book, Adapt, Harford argues that success always starts with failure.

Harford takes us on a failure tour of New York. Highlights include a Gutenberg Bible (turns out the Bible business wasn’t so good to Gutenberg) and the Woolworth Building (Woolworth’s had some great innovations in its day, but eventually got beat by big-box stores).

Failure, Harford argues, is essential to economic growth. Old companies fail and are replaced by newer companies with fresh ideas.

Perhaps inevitably, we wind up on Wall Street.

“Of course we have this classic phrase now, ‘too big to fail,'” Harford says. “That really tells you what was wrong with Wall Street: We created institutions that couldn’t fail safely.”

Subscribe to the podcast.


5th of June, 2011RadioComments off

More or Less

Tomorrow’s “More or Less” presents the results of our alternative to the census, asks “What is GDP?” – and should it be replaced? – and meets the man Michael Gove says is the most important figure in British education. Tune in on Friday at 1.30pm BST on Radio 4 – or Sunday 8pm – or subscribe to our podcast.

21st of April, 2011RadioComments off

More or Less

Tomorrow’s More or Less will cover social mobility, ask whether unemployed full-time students should really count as being unemployed, and find out about one of the most distinctive mathematicians in the world, Grigori Perelman. Steve Ziliak fans will have to wait until next week; sorry.

Most importantly: we shall try to calculate the fiscal multiplier in Trumpton.

More or Less is on BBC Radio 4 at 1.30pm, tomorrow, repeated on Sunday at 8pm, and podcast (click on the link at the top right of the page.)


New series of More or Less

The new series of More or Less – or as the cognoscenti now insist on calling it, > ˅ < – begins today at half past one BST on Radio 4. It’s repeated on Sunday at 8pm, and as always you can subscribe to our podcast (click on the podcast icon at the top right of this page).

This week: the UK budget cuts have been described as “embarrassingly small” – can that be true? And if so what does that imply for public services? We’ll also investigate the cost of the war in Libya. We meet a mathematician who’s solved a puzzle concerning the Beatles hit, Strawberry Fields Forever. (You may want to listen to this on the radio: we may not be able to put as much music as we’d like into the podcast version for legal reasons.)

And we’ll present our alternative to the census, jointly with the Today program. Click here to fill it in. (It’s very short, we promise.)

I can also assure you that the program begins with an important breaking news story. Please tune in.


Best economics podcasts

I’ve recently – and belatedly – come to the podcasting thing and wanted to put together my favourite economics podcasts as a resource for others.

NPR’s Planet Money is quite simply the best economics podcast out there. Great production values, very creative, serious economics topics treated with a light touch. The team also produced perhaps the greatest economics radio documentary ever made, This American Life’s The Invention of Money.

Another brilliantly-produced podcast is Freakonomics Radio. Stephen Dubner presents a range of topics which can only be described as Freakonomicsy – recent episodes looked at molecular gastronomy and the business of trash disposal. If you want pure economics you won’t find it here, but Dubner brings the same storytelling verve he brought to the Freakonomics books.

Russ Roberts’s EconTalk is, by contrast, pure economics: Russ, a professor at George Mason University, has strong views of his own – he’s a Hayek man through and through – but brings on a wide range of guests and gives them a sympathetic hearing. (As I type I’m listening to Russ discuss whether the stimulus worked with the Keynes expert Steve Fazzari – and a thoroughly civilised conversation it is too.) EconTalk offers no fancy production techniques – guests are usually speaking down a phone line. It’s like eavesdropping on a one-hour conversation between smart economists, including 8 Nobel prize winners. Count ’em.

Owen Barder, a totipotent development guru based in Addis Ababa, is the host and producer of Development Drums. With some exceptions, the format is similar to EconTalk: a one-hour conversation with the experts about a topic of interest. (Somehow Owen seems to get better sound quality than Russ Roberts does.) Guests have included Peter Singer, Rachel Glennerster, Paul Collier, Nancy Birdsall and many other development luminaries. A must for development wonks.

Radio 4’s Analysis often covers economics topics – for instance Jamie Whyte, with the aid of the Keynes v Hayek rap, exploring the revivial of Austrian economics. Mostly talking heads but with high production values.

Two other recommended Radio 4 podcasts about business rather than economics: Peter Day’s World of Business (in depth, on location) and Evan Davis’s The Bottom Line (studio discussion with business leaders).

The London School of Economics has a stellar collection of speakers and releases many events as podcasts.

I have to put in a word for my own team. More or Less on Radio 4 is a half-hour look at the numbers in the news and in the world around us. The producer, Richard Knight, always finds fresh angles, plenty of humour, and high production values. And sometimes – nay, often – it’s about economics.

And an honourable mention for FT Podcasts, which are collected here. I am told that Martin Wolf’s podcast has, alas, been discontinued.

One last thing: more suggestions very welcome. I feel there’s a lot out there I must be missing. Comments are open.

Update: Vox, the excellent blog in which economists write accessible summaries of their work,. has an audio section.

Update 2: I have just discovered that Paul Kedrosky of Infectious Greed has a podcast, Infectious Talk, with some brilliant guests – Dan Ariely, Kathryn Schulz, Paul Romer, Josh Lerner and many others. Looking forward to giving it a listen.


More or Less

Today’s More or Less looks at “welfare scroungers” – what’s the evidence that people go on benefits as a “lifestyle choice”? How many? What happens when the government tightens up the rules?

Also, our age- and sex-adjusted half-marathon race between 28 year old Lucy and 52 year old David. Who won the Great North Run?

Why did a scientist get death threats for trying to figure out whether cats kill a lot of birds?

And we unveil a new measurement scale: the PMI. What’s your PMI – and is it bigger than David Cameron’s which is exactly 1?

Today at 1.30 BST on Radio 4; repeated Sunday at 8pm, and online at bbc.co.uk/moreorless.

24th of September, 2010RadioComments off

More or Less

Today’s More or Less asks who is more underpaid and hard-done-by, public sector workers or private sector workers? We ask whether our trousers are lying to us with “vanity sizing”, how many Catholics really go to mass, and in preparation for the Great North Run, how to handicap a long-distance race between a 28 year old woman and a 52 year old man.

1.30 BST on Radio 4, repeated on Sunday at 8pm, and online at bbc.co.uk/moreorless.

17th of September, 2010RadioComments off

More or Less

Today’s More or Less line-up: more about cycling safety; how is your life-expectancy really calculated; this prize for bad science writing; and can this man really use physics to tell us something we don’t know about counterinsurgency? 1.30 BST on Radio 4; repeated 8pm on Sunday. Or visit bbc.co.uk/moreorless for the podcast.

3rd of September, 2010RadioComments off
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