@TimHarford@econtwitter.net avatar



Author How To Make The World Add Up (UK) / The Data Detective (US).
Cautionary Tales podcast.
Undercover Economist at the FT.
BBC More or Less.
Views my own.

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Cautionary Tales – When the robots take over… Cautionary Questions

Tim Harford is joined by Jacob Goldstein to answer your questions. Does winning the lottery make you unhappy? Is Bitcoin bad for the economy? When does correlation imply causation? And what will Tim and Jacob do when the robot overlords come for their jobs?

[Apple] [Spotify] [Stitcher]


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Why the biscuit tax leaves a bad taste in the mouth

Earlier this year, two distinguished gentlemen, Judge Hyde and his adviser Julian Stafford, sampled a mineral-enriched flapjack — alas, a year past its sell-by date — and pondered its qualities. (Flapjacks are slabs of oats stuck together with a glue made of butter, sugar and syrup.) The question: was this unconventional flapj


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Why Swifties, holidaymakers and the hygienic should cheer for surge pricing

The “Wendy’s Dave’s Triple” is a fast-food offering that stacks two possessives and three hamburgers. I am not sure how easy it is to swallow in either regard, but what has really been sticking in people’s throats is the prospect of surge pricing at the Wendy’s fast-food chain.


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Cautionary Tales – Inside the Bizarre World of Dictators

Why are so many autocrats germaphobes? Why was the truth so dangerous for Soviet engineers? And what can salami reveal to us about the mind of Vladimir Putin?

Tim Harford, host of the Cautionary Tales podcast, examines the true stories behind the HBO series The Regime. In the first of two special episodes, Tim investi


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Why friends are always right – no matter their views

My colleague John Burn-Murdoch recently presented striking evidence of a new trend: young men and young women are becoming politically segregated. Young men now sit substantially to the right of young women on the political spectrum. This is an international phenomenon and it’s new.

Should we be surprised? Society seems


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Of top-notch algorithms and zoned-out humans

On June 1 2009, Air France Flight 447 vanished on a routine transatlantic flight. The circumstances were mysterious until the black box flight recorder was recovered nearly two years later, and the awful truth became apparent: three highly trained pilots had crashed a fully functional aircraft into the ocean, killing all 288 people on board


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The secret to finding the best idea ever? First think about the absolute worst

When he first heard the music, Brian Eno grabbed a copy of the single and ran to find David Bowie. “I’ve found the sound of the future,” he breathlessly announced. It was 1977, and the sound of the future was “I Feel Love”. Donna Summer’s ethereal vocals were backed by produ


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Cautionary Tales – Tenerife: The most deadly air disaster

In 1977, two planes collided on the runway at Tenerife Airport. Why did the crash happen? And, given that it took place on the ground, why didn't more people escape?

In this new two-parter, Tim Harford explores the most deadly aviation accident in history. Both episodes are available now, ad-free, exclusively for sub


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Cautionary Tales – Martin Luther King Jr, the Jewelry Genius, and the art of public speaking (CLASSIC)

One speechmaker inspired millions with his words, the other utterly destroyed his own multi-million-dollar business with just a few phrases.

Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr (played by Jeffrey Wright of Westworld, The Hunger


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What makes a good prophecy?

A couple of years ago, taking questions on stage in front of a live audience, I was asked to do my duty as an economist and make an economic forecast. But the questioner had a demanding benchmark for what made a good prediction, informing me that the previous keynote speaker at this conference had been a prominent scientist, who warned of a deadly global pandemic. That was i


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Cautionary Tales – DANGER: Rocks Ahead! (Classic)

Torrey Canyon was one of the biggest and best ships in the world - but its captain and crew still needlessly steered it towards a deadly reef known as The Seven Stones. This course seemed like madness. But the type of thinking that resulted in such a risky manœuvre is something we're all prone to...

We have a treasure chest of Cautiona


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Why the breakdown of the 9-5 job is making us lonelier

Why does nobody have spontaneous fun any more? You can blame the economists for this one, if you like. Specifically, blame the Soviet economist Yuri Larin, who in May 1929 proposed the idea of nepreryvka, the “continuous work week”.

At the time, most people in the Soviet Union lived according to the rhythm of a tradi


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What the data shows about the UK’s public services doom loop

Everyone in the UK will have their own stories of crumbling public services, but indulge me for a moment while I share mine. A couple of years ago, I applied for power of attorney on behalf of my ageing father, in case it became necessary. The Office of the Public Guardian bungled the paperwork; months later


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The simple maths puzzle that shows us how to seperate fact from fiction

For certain kinds of questions, there are answers that are simple, elegant and wrong. Take the most famous example of the genre, the “bat and ball” question: if a bat and a ball together cost $1.10, and the bat costs a dollar more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

This is k


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Cautionary Tales – Laser Versus Parchment: Doomsday for the Disc

William the Conqueror undertook a remarkably modern project. In 1086, he began compiling and storing a detailed record of his realm: where everyone lived, what they did and where they came from.

900 years later, the BBC began its own Domesday project, sending school children out to conduct a community s


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Why we can’t quit email, even though we hate it

It’s the sheer variety of emails that bewilders. A forwarded review of a fried-chicken shop, suggesting it as a venue for a date. A heartfelt break-up letter, one that could have been written on paper in the 1960s. A note from Joe to his friend Brian suggesting a way to make a bit of cash, which turned out to be the founding document


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Netflix and bill – the high price of a subscription lifestyle

One of the modern classics of economics is an article from 2006 with the self-explanatory title “Paying Not to Go to the Gym”, in which researchers Stefano DellaVigna and Ulrike Malmendier studied the behaviour of nearly 8,000 gym members and found it “difficult to reconcile with standard preferences and be


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A great deal on electronic copies of The Truth Detective

My book for younger readers (to be honest, most adults also seem to prefer it) is The Truth Detective. Everything you need to think more clearly about statistics with the aid of everyone from Darth Vader to a pooping cow...

Anyway: for a limited time only it's 99p on Kindle. Seems like a steal.

If you like the idea


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Last year I wrote a column (inspired by Randall Munroe's "What If?") in which I attempted serious answers to absurd hypothetical questions about economics and the economy.
I'd like to do it again, please. (Spread the word...)
Last year I answered:
What if all monetary transactions are now conducted with only penny coins?
What would happen if tax wasn’t a thing?
What if everyone in Coventry was given £1mn on condition they didn’t leave Coventry?
Send q's to firstname.lastname@ft.com tks!

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Cautionary Tales – Oil and Blood: The Osage Murders

Minnie Smith had grown ill quite suddenly. She had been young, fit and healthy and the doctors were baffled. "A peculiar wasting illness," they called it. But then, her sister Anna went missing. Her rotting corpse was found a week later, a bullet hole through her skull. When a third sister, Rita, was blown up in her own bed, the gr


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Ubiquitous yet hated – what does the triumph of PowerPoint teach us about Generative AI?

The aesthetic of our age was shaped in Paris in 1992, in the Hotel Regina. The occasion was carefully stage-managed by a team of technicians fussing over a huge colour projector that cost as much as a small house. The big unveiling came when Robert Gaskin


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Cautionary Tales Double Header – A Monkey For Mayor / A Screw Loose At 17,000 Feet

This week, we've twice the storytelling fun for you: two Cautionary Tales shorts, previously only available to Pushkin+ subscribers.

[Apple] [Spotify] [Stitcher]

A Monkey for Mayor: It was supposed to be a publicity stunt, but when the man who dressed as Hartlepool U


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The art of making good misstakes

Do good teams make fewer mistakes? It seems a reasonable hypothesis. But in the early 1990s, when a young researcher looked at evidence from medical teams at two Massachusetts hospitals, the numbers told her a completely different story: the teams who displayed the best teamwork were the ones making the most mistakes. What on earth was going on?

The researcher


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Confessions of a work-from-homer

I wouldn’t claim to be a workaholic — the word is ugly and glib. But as I enter my sixth decade, I am finally starting to own up to some bad work habits. Unlike my father, who would head to the office in the morning, come home in the evening and almost never work outside those hours, I might work anywhere and at any time. I draw the line at the bedroom. I never wo


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Behind the fraud drama rocking academia

If the crowdfunding effort is anything to go by, there is huge sympathy for the data detectives Leif Nelson, Joe Simmons and Uri Simonsohn. The three men — professors of marketing, applied statistics and behavioural science, respectively — have carved out a reputation as defenders of sound scientific research methods. Now they face a lawsuit in the U


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