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The Undercover Economist


As a well-rounded practitioner of the dismal science, Tim Harford has emerged as one of those rare creatures: an economist for Everyman, a person who can set “oligopoly market” and “probability theory” in harmony with everyday conundrums without making you wrinkle your brow even once. His advice column, “Dear Economist,” in the Financial Times Magazine, neatly answers reader questions on everything from romance and the value of rankings to “Will having more money make me happier?” (The short answer: Yes.)

Harford also mans a desk at the World Bank, writing for the Chief Economist of the International Finance Corporation. He’s crunched numbers in the oil business and served as a tutor at Oxford. Like rogue economist Steven D. Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics (whose “Required reading” endorsement emblazons the jacket of this book), there are few topics Harford leaves unturned in The Undercover Economist.

Readers who’ve ever wondered why they find themselves spending so much for a mocha cappuccino, a new camera, a bag of popcorn at the movie theater, a used car, or indeed how they came to be stuck in cross-town traffic on a cloudless day, will probably find Harford’s theory-based answers useful and enlightening. In addition to addressing the petty quotidian concerns that vex everyone, he also applies economic theory to more sobering fare: why (at least in theory) the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. As he admits, “In the end, economics is about people—something that economists have done a very bad job at explaining.”

“My aim in this book is to help you see the world like an economist. ... It’s detective work all the way, but I’ll teach you how to use the investigative tools of the economist. I hope that by the end of the book, you’ll be a more savvy consumer—and a more savvy voter too, able to see the truth behind the stories that politicians try to sell you,” he writes.

- Martha Lagace

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