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.

Why are we so obsessed with saving Christmas?

We said our goodbyes to my mother on Christmas Eve 1996. She had died earlier in December after a long and painful illness, but when the end came it was sudden. It can’t have been straightforward to arrange a funeral service on Christmas Eve, the churches being put to...

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The power of negative thinking

For a road sign to be a road sign, it needs to be placed in proximity to traffic. Inevitably, it is only a matter of time before someone drives into the pole. If the pole is sturdy, the results may be fatal. The 99% Invisible City, a delightful new book about the...

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Why the polls got it wrong

Irving Fisher, who a century ago was one of the most famous economists on the planet, once declared: “The sagacious businessman is constantly forecasting.” Well, perhaps. But how sagacious is it to be constantly forecasting, when the forecasts seem so often to be...

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About to turn 47.2? Peak misery awaits

A confession: I’ve been feeling rather down of late. I am well aware that I’m not the only one. It is 2020, after all. This is a year that is finally delivering on the dystopian promises of late-20th-century science fiction. And I should be clear that by “rather down”...

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Can you put a number on it?

How far can common sense take us in the field of statistics? At first glance, not very. The discipline may be vital but it is also highly technical, and full of pitfalls and counterintuitions. Statistics can feel like numerical alchemy, incomprehensible to muggles —...

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