The Times reviews The Undercover Economist Strikes Back

14th August, 2013

From Monday 12 August, by Sam Fleming, Economics Editor:

Harford, a Financial Times columnist and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less, is best known for his work on microeconomics, homing in on everyday matters such as coffee prices, gambling in Las Vegas casinos, bosses’ pay packages and the tactics behind speed dating. In the new book he looks at the world through the wide-angle lens of macroeconomics — the management of entire economies. Harford manages to explain the topic with beguiling clarity and in the effortlessly breezy style that has characterised his previous books.


Harford spurns the polemical style that infects so much writing about macroeconomics, offering a clear exposition of the key debates using case studies ranging from Second World War POW camps to the 1970s oil shock and Brazil in the 1990s. In doing so he also explains the elusive concept of money, taking in not only the gold standard and bitcoins but the Micronesian island of Yap, where the currency was stone wheels up to 4½ tons in weight, one of which sat at the bottom of the sea. Yap’s currency might seem singularly odd, but Harford makes a convincing case that it is considerably less crazy than the monetary system we use today, based on circulating bits of paper.

Harford’s sympathies and passions lie in microeconomics, and this comes across in the book. Macroeconomics, he suggests, is a profession facing something of a crisis after its theories proved incapable of responding to the banking crisis of 2007-09.


While Keynes argued that master-economists should combine the gifts of the mathematician, historian, statesman and philosopher, modern macroeconomists tend to have a far narrower focus. Harford discusses this complex field in the Q&A format used in his columns. Some readers might find this wearing over 285 pages, but it is a good way of leading the reader by the hand through what can be an inaccessible subject. Harford explains the subject with impressive clarity and wit.

The book is out in the UK at the end of August – more details here.

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