Title: The Undercover Economist
Author: Tim Harford
What I think so far: This is the second time Tim Harford has proved to me that non-fiction books can be hooking. Having read Freakonomics previously, which he wrote alongside Steven Levitt, my expectations were high, and were instantly met in the introduction; the fact that I actually read the introduction of a book is indicative of my opinion of Harford. The book introduces and coaxes the reader into a high-level of thinking without overwhelming any economic ‘newbies’ with terms and phrases that would have caused many to drop the book in exhaustion after a page. Then, Harford systematically exposes those secret cogs of our malfunctioning society that everyone knows exist, but probably do not know the extent to which they are controlled by them. For example, did you know that some companies remove chips from their machinery to make it function slower, and then sell on the hampered product as a different product? This is simply for advertisement purposes, to create a point of comparison for the consumer, so that people are manipulated into thinking it is worth spending significantly more for the more ‘high-end’, faster product, when actually the cheaper product cost more time and equipment for the manufacturer. These are just one of the many confusing, manipulative economic tactics at play in our convoluted, consumer society that Harford unapologetically strips bare for us ignorant sheep.
Would I recommend it? Indubitably; and, specifically, this is a ‘must-have’ for students who need to condition their spending habits. Tim Harford has introduced a new and invaluable way of thinking to me that has already had an impact on my behaviour. I will never again buy a three pack of avocados without checking whether the loose avocados are actually cheaper, and it is the convenient packaging that has made me needlessly spend that 10p extra. Whilst understandably economics is not a subject that everyone will find tantalizing, this book is designed for everyone to consume and breaks the intimidating subject into something much more digestible through elegant, controlled simplification, fun analogies and Harford’s witty tone.
Words by India Woodward