The Undercover Economist

The Undercover Economist

by Tim Hartford
Oxford University Press 2006, $26 (hardcover)

Hartford, who pens the "dear economist" column for the Financial Times Magazine, has written a highly entertaining book on topics both serious (why some nations are rich and some poor) and relatively trivial (the "why you can never buy a decent used car" of the subtitle).

His lucid, chatty style makes the discussions easy to understand for nonspecialists even as he lays out serious policy suggestions. so much for economics being "the dismal science"!

Fair warning: hartford is a free marketer, so some readers might bristle at some of his stances. For example, his healthcare solution rejects a government-managed universal system in favor of one that uses market principles (though it also has a compulsory component true free-marketers would cringe at). he also has nice things to say about globalization and even sweatshops.

On the other hand, he does delve into the dark underbelly of capitalist pricing systems, exploring just why you pay two bucks for a cup of coffee at starbucks when coffee growers make pennies, or why companies actually sabotage some of their products to upsell consumers to pricier, more profitable ones.

Think of it as econ 101 with a laugh track.