Tim Harford, described by the New Statesman as ‘perhaps the best popular economics writer in the world’, is a behavioural economist, BBC radio and TV presenter and award-winning Financial Times columnist. Sometimes called ‘Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell’, Tim offers a distinctive blend of storytelling, humour and intelligence.
He is the host of the BBC World Service podcast series, 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. It was rated #1 on iTunes in the UK. 50 Things presents brief stories of the ideas and inventions all around us — and the way they’ve shaped how we live, from the gramophone to the iPhone to Ikea’s “Billy Bookcase”. Tim is also host of the podcast More or Less. Both podcasts were listed as the top 30 podcasts around the world by the Times of London. His BBC Radio 4 series, More or Less, offers a genial smackdown of dubious statistics. It was commended by the Royal Statistical Society five years running for excellence in journalism.
Tim has written seven books, including a newly published book based on the popular podcast series titled Fifty Things That Shaped the Modern Economy. His most successful book, The Undercover Economist, has sold 1.5 million copies in over 30 languages around the world. Hartford’s book, Messy: How to be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-minded World, argues that we underrate improvisation, randomness, and vagueness — and overrate the scripted, the controlled and the quantified. If we embraced a little more mess we’d get more done, and be more creative and resilient. The book has many ideas from his recent TED Talk, How frustration can can make us more creative.
Harford’s writing has won several prestigious awards, including the Bastiat Prize for economic journalism (2007), Economics Commentator of the Year (2014), Society for Business Economists writing prize (2014) and the Royal Statistical Society prize for journalism (2015).
Tim has also worked at Shell and the World Bank, and is a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He has given numerous invited lectures, including at the Royal Economic Society, Google, the Bank of England, PopTech, the Sydney Opera House and (twice) at TED.
His Daring Views for the Future
"We're now gaining unprecedented high-frequency data about everywhere on the planet, and it's going to transform our understanding of how we all live."
Think about how the Gutenberg printing press brought mass literacy, the novel, the newspaper - and the terrible Thirty Years War - to Europe. And then think about how it made no sense to mass-produce writing without a way of mass-producing a writing surface; that is, paper. It's humble paper - a product invented in China and disdained in Europe for centuries - that helped cause this upheaval. And this isn't an unusual example: Consider barbed wire in the 19th century mid-west, or the way the shipping container revolutionised global trade in the second half of the 20th century. Ignore the daring and focus on simple, humble stuff. It's the simple, humble stuff that make a dent and shape the future.
Since I've advised focusing on the simple stuff, here are three examples of simple, humble stuff that will shape our future lives:
- Administrative data: From schools to customs offices to credit cards, more and more data is being gathered in digital form. That makes it accessible to researchers - and others. As this happens, we're going through a revolution in understanding how our economies and societies work.
- Prediction machines:Researchers such as Joshua Gans argue that the best way to get a handle on "artificial intelligence" is not as a source of super-intelligent life, but as a source of inexpensive predictions, smoothing travel and supply chains.
- CubeSats: This satellite used to be a half billion dollar project, but the new Cubesats are 10cm on a side and can be sent into orbit for a few hundred thousand. We're now gaining unprecedented high-frequency data about everywhere on the planet, and it's going to transform our understanding of how we all live.