Undercover Economist

My weekly column in the Financial Times on Saturdays, explaining the economic ideas around us every day. This column was inspired by my book and began in 2005.

The hidden costs of cost-benefit analysis

I began last week’s column by declaring that life is full of difficult decisions. Many of us, faced with such dilemmas, resort to a list of pros and cons. Perhaps the most famous such list is that composed by Charles Darwin in July 1838, as he contemplated proposing...

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The life-saving magic of playing games

What’s kept you going during the pandemic? For some people, it’s been an exercise kick. For others, the day’s first glass of wine. For me, it’s been a game of “let’s pretend” with a conclave of imaginary wizards. It takes all sorts, but my survival mechanism has been...

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How to Take Back Control, one street at a time

“We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration.” — Boris Johnson, October 6 “British meat producers have begun sending carcasses to the EU for...

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Two cheers for the Christmas newsletter

In these polarised times, one truth can be relied upon to unite the British commentariat: Christmas letters are ghastly. Writing in Country Life magazine, Kit Hesketh-Harvey advised being “alert enough to shake the card out directly over the recycling bin”. The late...

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Why carbon taxes really work

A friend recently wrote to me agonising over an ethical question. He was pondering a long-haul trip to see his family but was all too aware that the flight would have a huge carbon footprint. Could the journey possibly be justified? I suggested that my friend find out...

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Notes on a statistical scandal

Even a spreadsheet can become a victim of its own success. Just ask the World Bank’s Doing Business report. While many worthy publications from the World Bank are never downloaded, Doing Business has been a smash hit for years. No longer. Amid an ugly scandal about...

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Christmas? I had it wrapped up weeks ago

Christmas is coming early this year! Christmas shopping is anyway — or such is my plan. I’ve seen too many queues and empty shelves over the past couple of years to leave things to chance. (Supply chains, people!) I’ve been making a list, I’ve been checking it twice,...

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