Top positive review
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Clear and well written introduction to economic ideas that impact on the real world
on 28 January 2014
Tim Harford’s “Undercover Economist” is a clear and well argued read. You don’t need any prior economic knowledge to understand his key arguments and he explains things in clear and simple language.
The book is along the same lines as a raft of populist social/science books - perhaps the most obvious comparison is with Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics”. However, while the two share an easy reading quality, Freakonomics is more concerned with micro economics (and human decisions) while Harford also covers macroeconomic arguments. Of the two, I found Harford’s more interesting and insightful. It seems more concerned with explaining things than going for the shock value. That’s not to say that there are not some contentious issues - the economic view of sweatshops for example won’t thrill everyone but his arguments are well reasoned.
There is a clear development of Harford’s approach - from the importance of scarcity right up to looking at the reasons for China’s development. The content of the chapters is cross referenced so you get a real sense of an argument building.
The concept of Harford as an “undercover economist” is the only area that doesn’t live up to the promise. Sure there are times when he uses the idea to explain why things are as they are from an economist’s point of view - notably looking at coffee prices - but while there are times when it is a useful device, for much of the book the undercover concept is a bit spurious. It’s really more of an explanation of why the world is as it is economically.
It’s both an enjoyable read and a very good and clear introduction to some key economic ideas that will give some useful examples to explain the key ideas.