More Undercover Economics

I highly recommend Tim Harford's book The Undercover Economist-- here are a few of the many many topics he covers:

1) why storebrand supermarket products are packaged with the "purpose of conveying awful quality" though they are often indistinguishable from actual braids . . . it wouldn't cost much to improve the logos of these products, but that would defeat the purpose, the packaging is designed to put off customers who might be willing to pay more . . . IBM did this with their LaserWriter E low end printer, which was the same machine as their high end LaserWriter, only with an additional chip to slow it down-- it was cheaper to manufacture it like this than make an actual slower printer for less-- and the same goes for "professional" and mass-market versions of software programs . . . the professional is built first and then the cheaper one is handicapped;

2) the externalities of traffic jams . . . the best solution might be a per trip tax, especially during rush hour in congested areas;

3) the economic reasons U.S. health care is "hugely expensive, very bureaucratic, and extremely patchy" and the ways we can combat this, using inside information, catastrophe insurance, and cooperation between the government and markets;

4) why poor countries are poor, and why tariffs and "bringing jobs" back isn't the answer-- this section gets quite technical, but mainly what I got out of it is that poor countries try to protect industries that can't compete in the global market instead of doing what they do best, and this often leads to subsidies and corruption which drain from the economy and only help special interest groups-- in other words, the best way to make really good cars in the US is a technology called "Japan," and we should grow a shitload of corn and export it so we can turn that foreign currency into great cars, instead of trying to make our own . . . this in controversial, of course, and people get laid off and fired and have to be retrained along the way . . . but that's what wealthier countries do, time after time (and I have read that no country has become poorer after opening its borders, though I have also read that you may need the government to help you establish the infrastructure to compete on an global level, and then you can kick out the ladder . . . economists never agree on anything).


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