The Undercover Economist
has always been a subject to produce somnolence in me. Probably because I
have yet to find out how to make sufficient money that I have to hedge,
pledge, or indulge in leverage. However, in a fit of masochism I plucked The
Undercover Economist (ISBN 978-0-349-11985-4, Abacus publishing, paperback
2007) from the Bookazine shelf and scuttled back to my impecunious lair.
Perhaps author Tim Harford could propel me to the riches I feel I so rightly
All the reviews on the back cover pointed towards this
book being an enjoyable read, “A playful guide to the economics of everyday
life,” wrote The Economist, “Lively and witty,” said The Times.
By half way through the first chapter, I was hooked. This
book on economics was intensely readable, and used everyday examples to
demonstrate economic principles. Take, if you please, the power of scarcity
from the first chapter, explaining easily the nexus between railway
stations, coffee bars and the price of a cup of coffee.
And whilst this was all stuff that you and I could relate
to, author Harford also let the cat out of the economic moneybag, by
demonstrating that this was something that had been written down in 1817 by
a David Ricardo, a rather rich English gentleman, despite his European
The principles and effects of competition between
businesses are also covered. Page 24 regales you with, “people have to find
other ways to prevent competition. One popular method is through violence,
which is particularly popular in the drug trade and other organized crime.”
Once again, great verbal imagery to brighten up any didactic discourse on
dry subjects like economics.
One hot economic topic here is the dual pricing that is
pervasive throughout Thailand’s tourist attractions. Is this a local
phenomenon to add to all the others which make up Amazing Thailand?
Certainly not, if you read page 37, where Harford writes, “Disney World in
Florida offers admission discounts of over 50 percent to locals. They simply
know that for a reduced price, locals are more likely to come regularly. But
tourists will come once, and once only, whether it is cheap or expensive.”
The chapter called What Supermarkets Don’t Want You To
Know made for very interesting reading, and those who subscribe to the
organic vegetable theory of nutrition should take great note of just how
much you are being ripped off. Organically, of course.
Every economic facet of health insurance, drug companies,
share markets, globalization and more are covered. “A simple message,”
writes Harford, “if you would like to be rich, then it is a good idea to
forge close links with the rest of the world.” Perhaps this is something
that certain governments might like to ponder!
At B. 450 this is undoubtedly the best economic text book
you can buy. It does, as the front cover suggests, “Reading this book is
like spending an ordinary day wearing X-Ray goggles.” You do get a new
(economic) point of view. But now, can I put all this into practice? Will my
bottom line be better? Only time will tell!