Tim Harford's latest book, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, is a great macroeconomic companion to his 2005 debut, The Undercover Economist (UK edition), an excellent and accessible book on microeconomics. Structured as a dialog between an economist (Harford) and a notional punter who has been put in charge of getting an imaginary economy going after a deep, long recession (ahem), Strikes Back is full of Harford's witty, clear and memorable explanations of complex and vital subjects.
I know Harford and consider him a friend, even though as he's pointed out, we don't exactly agree on economics (we don't entirely disagree either). I was educated, informed and delighted by nearly everything in this volume, but worried about what was missing. Particularly on the subject of continuous economic growth, I was concerned about the breeziness with which Harford predicted growth in economic activity by means of buying and selling information, which is a rather fraught and complex subject (and worthy of its own book, which is probably why it didn't get the explanation it deserved). One thing that's clearer every year is that the ability to charge money for information is entirely dependent on the cooperation of the buyers, who can choose at virtually no risk to themselves to get the same information for free. This doesn't mean that no one will pay, but it does point to a complicated future for information marketplaces.
I was more worried about the lack of consideration given to corruption and its place in markets, regulation and economics. Harford points out that the increasing inequality in the world is bad in many ways, and suggests multiple causes for this phenomenon, but underplays the role that corruption has played. It's pretty mainstream to observe that we are in the grip of a cycle of policies that enrich important and wealthy people, whose wealth and import then grows, who are then better positioned to influence policy to enrich themselves further still (lather, rinse, repeat). The distorting effect of corruption on sound policy is vital to understanding recession, poverty, inequality, environmental problems and many of the other phenomena that Harford addresses with otherwise exemplary thoroughness.
But let me reiterate that while I argued with what was missing from this book, I have enormous admiration for what was present. Harford is a gifted explainer of complex ideas, and his use of narrative in storytelling makes his explanations sticky and memorable. There is no one book you can read to understand macroeconomics, but Strikes Back is one book you should read to gain that understanding.
The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy (UK edition)
I first read George RR Martin’s 1982 vampire novel Fevre Dream as a young teenager, around the time I was also discovering Anne Rice and a host of other “contemporary” vampire novels who were reinventing the genre; now, decades later, I’ve been transported anew to the slavery-haunted riverboat where Joshua York and Abner Marsh tried to tame the ancient vampire before it was too late.
Some of Neil Gaiman’s finest work has sprung from classical mythology, from American Gods to Odd and the Frost Giants: now, in a new nonfiction book for WW Norton, Gaiman will retell the Norse myths in novelistic style.
It’s been seven years since Richard Kadrey blew the lid off urban fantasy with Sandman Slim, a fresh, funny, mean and dirty supernatural hard-boiled revenge story like no other. Now, with the publication of book seven, The Perdition Score, Kadrey forces his antihero to confront his fiercest-ever opponent: his own violent nature.
Folks used to rely on alarms to protect their home – and before that, the family dog. Now, anyone looking to guard their homes can choose from some high-tech options, including the Amaryllo iCamPRO FHD Home Security Camera (now just $219 in the Boing Boing Store).In fact, this 2015 CES “Best of Innovation” award-winner boasts so many features, it’s […]
If you want a quality vaping experience, it’s usually going to cost you. Vaporizers that deliver a fast, controlled burn will set you back up to $300, which is why the FEZ Vaporizer (now just $99) is an absolute steal.The FEZ dry herb pen does everything that more expensive models handle at a reduced price. It heats up […]
Taking pictures can be challenging. There are a million factors that can influence each shot you take – and unless you’re a trained photographer, you often just focus, click…and cross your fingers.Of course, you can take some of the ambiguity out of your picture-taking with this Hollywood Art Institute Photography Course & Certification package, now […]