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According to John Maynard Keynes "The master economist ... must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher-in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man's nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician."
So even a very bright fifteen year old is not going to be able to understand macroeconomics - it will need half a lifetime of professional training and experience to get him to a point where he can grasp even the basics. Unless, that is, he has Tim Harford as his guide. Using the Q&A Socratic debate format Tim leads the reader towards an understanding of why macroeconomics is so hard, why no solutions have yet been found and maps out potential sources of hope for future solutions. Along the way we encounter some of the latest thinking on behavioural economics, on why economics growth can continue forever, on why happiness economics is just plain weird and on how the Euro is like Dr Strangelove's doomsday device with Greece playing the role of Major Kong.
Although this book could be read on its own I feel it is better to read
The Undercover Economist
first so that the reader has a basic understanding of microeconomic concepts before embarking on "The UE-SB". The takeaway from this book is different from his earlier works. Reading it has persuaded me that we need a long term inflation rate of more than 2% to get us out of this depression but I believe that the 4% rate that Tim suggests is too high. Let's see what Mark Carney does over 2014.
When it comes to pop economics books, Tim Harford's 'The Undercover Economist' is a classic of the genre, selling over a million copies around the world. Having read and enjoyed it, I was curious to see whether its successor 'The Undercover Economist Strikes Back' (named after the Star Wars' 'The Empire Strikes Back') would live up to the illustrious first volume.
The answer is that it is does, building and improving upon its predecessor. While The Undercover Economist was mainly if not exclusively focused on microeconomics, Strikes Back focuses on macroeconomics only and therefore covers plenty of content that the original didn't. Another change from the original that is immediately obvious is that Harford has implemented a new 'Socratic dialogue' style in which the whole book is written like an extended Q and A session between Harford and a notional reader. This hasn't pleased all reviewers and some readers may find it irritating, however I felt it made more explicit the precise questions Harford was addressing in each paragraph.
Harford covers the key issues of macroeconomics, starting from the role of money, the money supply and inflation to recessions, the labour market, game theory as well as some of the more normative questions over economic policy, such as whether it should be geared towards growth in GNP or other ends. Microeconomics is sometimes thought of as the 'good' economics, and therefore by implication macroeconomics as the 'bad'. This is because macroeconomics is seen as having far more ambiguity over its central questions than microeconomics. Therefore Harford's task is defining for a lay reader a debate as much as a settled discipline. He does this well, giving due attention to the arguments from a Keynesian and Neoclassical perspectives as well as key turning points in economic debate, such as the Lucas critique. However, what Harford does that some other introductions have missed is explain why there is ambiguity, i.e. the genuine difficulty in determining which way the lines of causation run in a complex system like the economy.
Therefore 'The Undercover Economist Strikes Back' is a very good introduction to macroeconomics that is just as crisply written and illuminating as Harford's original introduction to microeconomics.
A brilliant book on the big, governmental-level of economics. It occasionally hints at preferred solutions, but the book is mainly concerned with explaining how things work, how things go work and how economic theorists have struggled to understand the underlying processes. It always tries to be fair-minded, careful to explain both a "Keynesian" and a "Classical" approach to the problems. There are no maths or equations, the book uses quotes and (true) stories to illuminate the author's points. It covers all the hot topics: recessions, "austerity", when balanced budgets are a good idea and when they are not, how running a government budget isn't like running a household budget, printing money, rising inequality (or not), job protection and so on. The book is brilliantly written - the tone of it is almost exactly like that he adopts in his radio show "More Or Less", which is simple without being patronizing and with a gently ironic sense of fun. The explanations are very clear - an inquisitive older child could happily follow this book without problems and it is short enough to read in an afternoon, but without leaving you feeling short-changed. I'd recommend this to any reader interested in the subject without qualification.
Quite simply, I loved this book. Remember those books you used to read as a kid, that you couldn't put down or which you'd stay up reading, way past "lights out" - Well, here's an example... written about, of all things, economics! Tim Harford writes clearly, concisely and with gentle humour about macroeconomics, in a way that helped me (a science graduate) make sense of how a country's economy works on the grand scale. The tone is wonderfully conversational, but precise. It's logical - I lost count of the number of "light bulb" moments I had, reading it, where something I'd read in the financial press or saw on the news, suddenly made perfect sense :) I'm a big fan of "More or Less", Tim's radio 4 programme about numbers and statistics. That show is a perfect example of the Reith(ian) directive to "entertain, educate and inform". This book does just that :) Read it; you're certain to enjoy it :)
If you do not like graphs and equations but do want to understand the basics of macroeconomics then this book is a good starting point. Real life examples make what might seem like incomprehensible macroeconomic ideas easier to understand. I would recommend this for 'A' level students.
This is the second Hartford book I've bought and is, considering the subject matter, an easy read. Executed in the style of a conversational 'question and answer' between reader and author is throws much illumination on the current 'state-of-the-nation'. Recommended.
Has great examples and case studies to illustrate macroeconomic principles to anyone with an interest in economics. Would recommend to those planning to study economics at uni or just anyone who'd like to know more about economics. Only fault is that I preferred the first to the sequel which I thought was even better.