The Under Cover Economist Strikes Back (@TimHarford)

I’ve just finished reading a book.

To be honest, that doesn’t seem a very noteworthy achievement.

Well, no, not in itself. But this book was so interesting, and well written, that it only took a few days to read. It’s by Tim Harford. Are you familiar with him, and his oeuvre?

Ooooh, get you! Yes. @TimHarford, the guy who does that excellent BBCR4 programme More or Less.

Indeed, but he is also a journalist, and has written a few other books (which I’ve also read). An economist for the masses, if you will.

What were the other books like?

First three were great, and very accessible. His last one, but one…Adapt…..was heavier going, more serious, more newer thinking to process…but still worth reading.

By the way; why this strange dialogue structure…not your usual style?

No, (well, I have on occasion used a different approach). Thing is, this is the structure of Tim’s new book: The Under Cover Economist Strikes Back. He also sometimes uses this device in his blog. The book purports to ‘help’ someone prepare to run a large, modern economy…and takes them through the principles of macroeconomics.

Honestly, that sounds a bit dull. And isn’t the dialogue device a bit of a distraction after a time?

Ha, ha. The device might be tedious in this review, but Tim is far too good a writer for it to become anything but a useful way to discuss macroeconomics in his book. And that’s the joy of the book. Tim has managed to write an entertaining book that shines a very bright light into the world of macroeconomics. He has the ability to scythe through very complicated stuff, and to do so from a position of supreme clarity.

The grim reaper to economics obfuscation?

Yes. Masterly. The text rocks along at a fast pace, but the reader is never left behind…instead I was left wondering why he isn’t the Chancellor.

Why isn’t he?

Well, that would be politics….and whilst Tim does introduce a bit of politics into the book, it is a very light touch. It is hard to imagine Tim holding to a party line. Too interested in communicating the truth, I’d guess.

So, does he solve the problem of running an effective economy?

Well, that’s a good question. No: “The economy is shaped by psychology, history, culture, unforeseeable new technologies, geological and climatic events, computer traders too quick for humans to perceive, and much else. It is a dizzying, imponderable problem”.

Eek. Should we despair?

Don’t be silly. Not when someone like Tim is around. In this book, he has managed to show that we probably expect too much. Macroeconomists need to understand economies as best they can, and provide possible ways to fix them when they go wrong. Although predicting economies’ pathways is virtually impossible, that doesn’t mean that we can’t step in and do useful stuff to bring things back to a more reasonable place.

So, you’d recommend this book?

Doh. Yes. Very highly.


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