The Undercover Economist
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The Undercover Economist

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3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  12,081 ratings  ·  661 reviews
An economist's version of The Way Things Work, this engaging volume is part field guide to economics and part expose of the economic principles lurking behind daily events, explaining everything from traffic jams to high coffee prices.
The Undercover Economist is for anyone who's wondered why the gap between rich and poor nations is so great, or why they can't seem to find...more
Hardcover, 276 pages
Published November 30th 2005 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2005)
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Matt
I'm a sucker for pop books about economics, and this is the best of the breed -- better, even, than that NYT bestseller Freakonomics. Why? Because Harford, unlike Levitt, actually explains the reasoning and the data he used to follow a problem from its formulation through to its conclusions. He also addresses classic economic problems--why is it hard to buy a used car? why do all the restaurants in Times Square suck? etc., as compared to why you should name your child "Tova". His chapter on heal...more
Trevor
There was a point at the start of this book when I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the end – or even past the start. It was when the market economy was described as The World of Truth. ‘Oh god’, I thought, ‘this can only mean one thing…’

But I was wrong. This was a much better book than I thought it was going to end up. It was quite slow at the start when he was talking about Starbucks and pricing policies – but my interest picked up when he discussed two computer printers made by IBM in wh...more
Stringy
Harford says he's going to tell you how the world really works, how economics provides insight into our activity. What he really tells you is how awesome the world would be if it was run by economists and everybody always acted rationally, if by 'rationally' you mean the economics jargon of 'assigning a monetary value to every single action/object in life' and not the common usage of 'according to the rules of logic'.

You can also find out how poverty is easy to fix (you just move the starting b...more
ahmed  kano
قبل كتابة الريفيو فى ملاحظة بسيطة
اولا الكتاب ده حقق مبيعات عالية فى كذا دولة و مترجم لأكثر من لغة و لما دخلت على صفحة الكتاب لقيت أكثر من 370 صفحة من بين ريفيوهات و تقييمات و لما دخلت على نسخة الكتاب العربية لقيت صفحة واحدة و فيها 3 ريفيوهات .. و إن دل على شىء يدل أننا مجتمع معندوش أى وعى اقتصادى و مش بيحلم أنه يكون عنده وعى اقتصادى
ده مش دليل قوى .. ممكن يكون الناس بتقرا كتب اقتصادية تانية . مع انى أشك الصراحة فى كده
غالبية المثقفين العرب مبيهتموش الا بالروايات اللى بيتكلم عن العالم المثالى ال...more
Cory
Dec 03, 2007 Cory rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone without an economics degree
Shelves: books-i-have
This book was a fantastic overview of (what I think is) basic economic theory, but told in a way that made it incredibly readable. Harford is a great writer and manages to frame his topics in a way that is both highly relevant to real life while being simple enough that anyone can understand. It ranges from the small (the economics of Starbucks and how to prevent traffic jams) to the huge (why poor countries stay poor and how china became rich). I imagine that someone with a serious background i...more
Dustin Allison
From buying a used car to purchasing health insurance, Harford takes a look at a variety of situations that can have a real pratical impact on how we look at some of our everday activities. His take on health care, and how it is dealt with differently in Britain and the United States, was perhaps the most meaningful topic for me.

Growing up, I constantly heard how poor the health care was in socialized medicine and how we should protect our market system. The problem is that our health care syst...more
Sheila
Rereading it several years later, and with a bit more background in econ, I still find it informational and entertaining, but it highlights some of the frustrations I have with econ: great for revealing insights, a struggle when it comes to applying it to public policy. Sweatshops are better than the alternative, and given time (decades) lead to prosperity, but people are still suffering today, right now, so how do you address that without throwing off the progress over time? (Note: I don't know...more
Marlowe
The best bits are at the start (price targeting in coffee) and at the end (China's economic success). Best-selling, but not particularly brilliany by any means. The book's success - as it's author might testify - is probably down to the supply and demand ratio for economics books that aren't bloody dull.
Joe
Like a bad cup of coffee, I'm already struggling to force this down. As a former World Bank employee and Financial Times editor it will come as no surprise that Hardford thinks trade unions and free healthcare are bad, sweatshops are good and the free market will fix everything. There's something to be said for knowing your enemy, but The Undercover Economist's smug, patronising tone and Harford's self-avowed preference for armchair reasoning will have you grinding your teeth in frustration.
Jarrod Jenkins
Harford offers a decent little introduction to some of the more basic applications of economics. I finished it in two days and I read slowly. The Undercover Economist is a short, easy, but ultimately forgettable read.

Perhaps it's my own fault for reading essentially the same narrowly focused nonfiction book on economics over and over and over again, but I literally received no new information here. Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics" covers the same ideas in more intellectual depth while Levitt's...more
Jamie
Following my recent interest in books on the psychology of decision-making and behavioral economics, I thought it might be interesting to read up on some actual economics. I had gotten some of this out of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner, but Tim Harford's Undercover Economist is a little less afraid to throw in actual economic theory and terms. So you get explanations of "perfect" markets, inefficiencies, externalities, and other economic jargon.

Which isn't to say that th...more
Monthly Book Group
Introducing the book to the Monthly Book Group, the proposer said he had chosen it because his wife was buying a book for a rail journey, and, as there was a two for one offer at the station, he chose this. No, despite the analysis of railway station coffee outlets in Harford’s opening chapter, he had not also succumbed to the temptation to buy an expensive coffee. (He had been brought up to believe that food and drink was something to be consumed at home, not purchased at inflated prices outsid...more
Nicole
I gave up on this one. I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already read a few books about behavioral economics, Nudge and Predictably Irrational. I'd also heard Dan Ariely interviewed several times. It would have made more sense to read this first, before those others, which, in some ways, debunk many assumptions in Undercover.

I found his cutesy tone annoying as hell. But, bless him, he admirably keeps it up. Well, at least through the first six or so chapters that I read.

Major points for t...more
Brian
More entertaining, thoughtful, and relevant than Freakonomics. Freak tended to ramble and explain how economics helped explain random things like drug-dealing cartels and cheating on standardized tests, Undercover has a planned narrative from start to finish and helps explain important things like why things cost what they do and how third world countries grow. It's admittedly a pro-free markets tome, which shows through in the international development chapter, but soundly addresses a number of...more
Luis
Bueno y malo a partes iguales.

Tim Harford se dedica a lo largo de varios capítulos a desentrañar la economía detrás de las cosas de cada día. Si uno no tiene unos conocimientos aceptables de economía, como es mi caso, encontrará este libro agradable. Si los tiene, puede que lo encuentre aburrido.

Hay capítulos que sobresalen, especialmente los cotidianos como el del supermercado o el café; y otros que se hacen muy pesados, como el de China o los seguros de salud. Merece mucho la pena por las anéc...more
Mark Jones
With humour, and style, Tim Harford introduces the reader to the not-so-esoteric word of economics. The awesome power of the market to not just create wealth and redistribute it, but to also dramatically improve people's lives in ways no other system can manage, whilst simultaneously improving efficiency and delivering information becomes shockingly clear, and surprisingly simple! There's a wealth of optimism and hope riding through these pages, not because Tim is an optimistic chap, but because...more
Carly
**edited 12/10/13

Full disclosure--Tim Hartford runs my absolute favourite radio programme ever: BBC Radio 4's More or Less, a topical statistics programme. Yes, you heard me right. Basically, they do fact-checking on audience-recommended bizarre-sounding statistics. It's funny, fun, and relevant, and has the added benefit of actually catching all the zombie statistics that politicians use. Catch NPR ever having anything like that.

Anyway, all that simply goes to note that I was heavily, heavily p...more
Theerasak Maneeneim
เดิมทีผมซื้อหนังสือเล่มนี้มาเพราะคิดว่ามันคงเป็นแนวๆ Edutainment อ่านง่ายๆ เบาหัวแต่ไม่เลย ผมใช้เวลาอ่านหนังสือเล่มนี้มากกว่าเล่มอื่นหลายเท่านัก อ่านไม่จบซักทีเพราะอ่านทีไรเป็นหลับตลอด

ทิม อธิบายหลักการทางเศรษฐศาสตร์ บอกถึงเหตุและผลของสิ่งต่างๆ ที่เราเจอกันอยู่ในชีวิตว่าทำไมมันถึงเป็นเช่นนั้น เช่น

- ทำไมร้านป๊อปคอร์นที่โรงหนังถึงแพงกว่าของป้ามุ้ยหน้าศาล
- ทำไมเราถึงหารถยนต์มือสองดีๆ ไม่ค่อยได้
- ทำไมราคาเข้าชมเมืองโบราณ ถึงมักจะเก็บค่าเข้าชมชาวต่างชาติ แพงกว่าคนท้องถิ่น
- คุณคิดว่าการที่เรา boycott ไ...more
Emily
Okay, so it's no Freakonomics. It's not nearly as readable or as wowing. However, I learned a lot and I've found myself reporting on things from this book in conversation a lot lately. Ask me about my "comparative advantage" and see for yourself. There's a lot of food for thought here.
I'm not an economist and I don't get a LOT of what this guy is talking about a lot of the time - but I got it some of the time, so his efforts at creating an accessible piece of economic writing are not in vain. I...more
Praveen
This is books gives answer to hell lot of questions, like:

1.How supermarket works?
2.How discount sale works?
3.How Happy hours works is Pubs / Bars?
4.How china produce everything and cheaper?
5.Why productivity of a worker in developed country is lesser?

If you are really interested you can go ahead....
Akshay Ahuja
Quite a thought provoking book. The passages on how to tackle global warming by taking into account external costs, and the one on health insurance system comparison between US and UK are really great. The last part on How China became rich is also a good read for someone who wonders how a communist country is one of fastest growing in the world.
Though I am not in complete agreement with Tim Harford on his thoughts on free trade, but still those are interesting.
Overall a must read for a person...more
Ami
Apr 26, 2011 Ami marked it as to-read
Shelves: 2011, didn-t-finish
I wanted to like it. I tried to like it. I didn't like it.

Harford wanted to be like Steven Levitt's Freakonomics. He tried to be like Levitt's Freakonomics. He even got a blurb on the back cover from Levitt, even cited a study of Levitt's in his first chapter. But his dense and unengaging style is nothing like that other famous pop-econ book, and economics is really a topic (for me) where the author has to do a bit of writing foreplay for me to be interested or feel satisfied with the reading.
Cissa
Well-written and interesting look at many aspects of economics and basic games theory in everyday life. Know going in, though, that he's a dedicated free-trade advocate, and while his info and analysis are excellent as far as they go, he does not put together the "scarcity" aspects at the beginning og the book with the ways globalization is reducing the number of options as companies get bigger and bigger, and options become fewer and fewer- thus leading to artificial scarcity, high prices, and...more
Filip Ligmajer
page 5 | location 68-73 | Added on Monday, 23 June 2014 04:29:59

Your coffee is intriguing to the economist for another reason: he doesn’t know how to make a cappuccino, and he knows thatnobody else does either. Who, after all, could boast of being able to grow, pick, roast, and blend coffee, raise and milk cows, roll steel and mold plastics and assemble them into an espresso machine, and, finally, shape ceramics into a cute mug? Your cappuccino reflects the outcome of a system of staggering comp...more
Pankaj Singh
Being a pop economics book, 'The Undercover Economist' is bound to draw comparisons with Freakonomics. However, they are very different books. Although Freakonomics and the sequels are a lot of fun to read, most of the ideas presented there were backed by pretty flimsy logic. On the other hand, Tim Harford takes on some serious issues, using daily life examples, and explains some major economics principles. He draws big conclusions, ubt unlike Freakonomics, backs his conclusions with data and lo...more
Neeraj Bali
The book began interestingly for me, dissecting the ‘secret’ of high prices of common goods – coffee being the centre of the author’s attention. The dots he joins from advantage of ‘location’ to ‘cost of owning or renting real estate to sell products’ to ‘the power of scarcity’ was illuminating in a rudimentary way. Indeed, the advantage enjoyed by those who sell what is scarce runs right through the book like a silent stream.

Scarcity is relative, of course, and shifts from situation to situatio...more
Kevin Dary
I laughed a little when i finished the book to realized that the book itself was a way to make me buy the book using its own strategy. In a sense , I meant to say that by putting the topic "coffee" as a first topic it attracted my attention such as raising prices and sugar coating products to sell out to price sensitive customers who was willing to buy what was worth more than price.

Tim harford nether less tackles the basics of economics in his book by showing us the first part of his book in a...more
Simon Howard
It takes a special kind of effort to be so behind the times that I’m reviewing The Undercover Economist more than three years after it was published, despite having it on my “must read” list for most of that time. As a fan of Tim Harford’s contributions to the Financial Times and his presentation of More or Less, I had great expectations for this book – and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Undercover Economist seeks to explain the economic theories underpinning everyday life, from buying a coffee to sh...more
techani

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يخبرك الكاتب عن عوامل أخرى في تسعير المنتجات والعقارات، كلها بالطبع تحت مظلة العرض والطلب. قد يتفق صاحب المحل مع صاحب العقار بعدم تأجير أي من المحلات على أي من المنافسين، ثم يزيد السعر. مجرد مثال

عيب الكتاب الشنيع هو التكرار الممل جداً، مما أساء للمحتوى الجيد. هذا العيب كلفه نجمتين لأن منها الملل الذي جعلني لا أستطيع إكماله في جلسة أو ثلاث أو خمس، ومنها عدم التركيز فتتخطى معلومات جيدة لا تنتبه لها لتتخلص من رتابة المعلومات المكررة
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وفيه ما قد يفيد المهتمين بالاقتصاد و التسويق و بعض السياسة
Inggita
i'll never look at my latte cup the same way again! He's a freakonomist with a more tempered attitude - but actually loftier targets - combined with the tipping point - we might know more about how to get things our way... other than persuasion - its basic assumption is that human being are calculating pragmatists (totally against my industry here!) and a simple policy tweaking will get everyone lined up to do what we want them to do the way we want them to do it...
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Tim Harford is a member of the Financial Times editorial board. His column, “The Undercover Economist”, which reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences, is published in the Financial Times and syndicated around the world. He is also the only economist in the world to run a problem page, “Dear Economist”, in which FT readers’ personal problems are answered tongue-in-cheek with the late...more
More about Tim Harford...
The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy Dear Undercover Economist: Priceless Advice on Money, Work, Sex, Kids, and Life's Other Challenges The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: The Economy - A User's Manual

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“There is much more to life than what gets measured in accounts. Even economists know that.” 8 likes
“Hours are long. Wages are pitiful. But sweatshops are the symptom, not the cause, of shocking global poverty. Workers go there voluntarily, which means—hard as it is to believe—that whatever their alternatives are, they are worse. They stay there, too; turnover rates of multinational-owned factories are low, because conditions and pay, while bad, are better than those in factories run by local firms. And even a local company is likely to pay better than trying to earn money without a job: running an illegal street stall, working as a prostitute, or combing reeking landfills in cities like Manila to find recyclable goods.” 7 likes
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