Underwhelmed by the Undercover Economist

I was quick to purchase Tim Harford’s Undercover Economist when it was published the other week. His small column in the Financial Times, Dear Economist, is witty, wears its knowledge lightly and reveals important aspects of economic thinking.

Sadly, the new book has little of the wit and originality of the column. The Undercover Economist is an easy-to-read overview of some of the main themes of modern economic thinking: marginal cost, comparative advantage, asymmetric information, the benefits of free trade. If you have ever studied economics, I suspect there will be little new in the book. If you haven’t studied economics, but keep up with key writers like Brad DeLong, Martin Wolf and Paul Krugman, you’ll still find little new.

My guess is the publishers, Oxford University Press in the US, Little Brown in the UK, are hoping to repeat the success of Freakonomics. I didn’t much like that book either, but it certainly introduced me to a host of new ideas and research.

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