Dear Economist

You may have noticed that this blog has gone rather quiet while I work on my next book – sorry. The FT is going to mothball it, which seems reasonable.

So – thanks for following so far. If you’d like to keep going, here’s what to do:

Here is the FT RSS feed of all my Undercover Economist columns.

The RSS feed of my website, timharford.com is here. The website feed contains columns but also all sorts of other writing, and if I start blogging again when the book’s finished, that’s where the blog will be.

And at the moment I’m far more active on Twitter, where I post links to all my writing and much else besides.

Thanks for reading; I hope the click over to a new format isn’t too inconvenient.

Reposted from Monday.

My old university tutor often complains when he has to write references – they take up a lot of his time, and he doesn’t get paid for them. Since he’s doing my prospective employer a service, he thinks they should pay him. However, that means he’s motivated to write me a bad reference, because then I won’t get the job, and I’ll ask him to write me another one – so he gets paid again. Of course, we could say that he only gets paid if I get the job – so he writes me an overly gushing reference. How can we motivate my tutor to write a fair and accurate reference, and compensate him for his time?

Phil C, Aylesbury

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comment below.

Frequent-flyer programmes are very popular here in Australia, where people often travel long distances for work and can subsequently be rewarded with large perks by selecting their preferred airline ahead of cheaper offers from other carriers – and to the detriment of their employers.

I am sure the airlines must benefit from all of this, but what about the rest of the economy? Are we encouraging an inefficient market by signing up to loyalty programmes?

Oliver Jones, Perth, Western Australia

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comment below.

As an economics graduate from Hong Kong, I wonder whether we are doing enough to protect Mother Nature. I have considered donating money to Greenpeace. Then I had a better idea. Why don’t we donate shares of polluting companies to Greenpeace? By doing so, at least some part of these companies’ profits could be directed to environmental organisations through dividends. In some extreme cases, Greenpeace could acquire enough shares to push the companies to transform into a more “environmentally friendly” corporation.

What do you think?

Cloud Yip

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comment below.

I have been a client of weed dealers in North America since the mid-1980s and no matter who the vendor, the price has remained $10 a gramme. I don’t think anything in 25 years has stayed fixed in price like weed has.

Dealers might have some power to increase prices, as it’s illegal, and there are some significant barriers to entry, such as getting arrested. But if I don’t like the prices, it’s pretty easy to grow some on my own, because it “grows like a weed”, even if it might not be as good as the dealer’s Cannabis sativa.

So how did we end up at $10 a gramme?

Sebastian

P.S. I meant to email this sooner, but was pretty baked and forgot to hit send …

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comment below.

When I travel I am faced with a difficult choice: which of the toilet booths to use in offices or hotels. I always try to guess which one is the least used. Probability theory should tell me that all the booths should be equally used, but perhaps human psychology plays a part in this. My boyfriend believes the last one is the least used – contrarily, I believe the opposite. Perhaps this proves that, on average, all are equally used. Which one do you use?

Jan Lucan, Prague

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comment below.

Having bought identical garlic breads for my wife and myself, I proposed that we should equally share one immediately and equally share the second later. She was unhappy with this, proposing that she eat half of hers and that I eat half of mine. When I suggested that half garlic breads should be fungible, she accused me of making the word up. Assuming that garlic breads could be exactly shared equally, had I been correctly using established economic terminology?

Hungry Chris, Teesside

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comments below.

In Holland we’ve got a “postcode-lottery”: every month, people living in a certain postcode win – provided, of course, that they’ve bought a lottery ticket.

As a rule, I don’t buy lottery tickets. The chances of winning are small. In my view you only pay for the privilege to dream about what you would do with money you are never going to have in real life. And I don’t know about you, but I can dream for free.

But lately I’ve started dreaming (well, it’s more like a nightmare) that my zip-code wins the lottery, so my neighbours become millionaires and I miss out on all the money.

What should I do? Join the herd and start buying tickets every month?

Rob Voorwinden, the Netherlands

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comments below.

I have inherited six bottles of excellent wine, which I plan to consume, over time, on special occasions. But how do I know when to open a bottle when I don’t know what occasions lie ahead? I don’t want to use up all the bottles within a few months on mediocre occasions, but neither do I still want to be hoarding them until I die.

George Stevens

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comments below.

I live in a place where polygamy is allowed, but generally avoided. One of my friends has two wives. When asked why, he once quipped “more suppliers means more competition and better service for the customer”. Now I know, both intuitively and through observation, that people with two wives seldom lead “peaceful” lives. As an economist, how would you explain that?

Mohsin, Pakistan

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comments below.

The Undercover Economist: a guide

Publishing schedule: Excerpts from "The Undercover Economist" and "Dear Economist", Tim's weekly columns for the FT Magazine, are published on this blog on Saturday mornings.
More about Tim: Tim also writes editorials for the FT, presents Radio 4's More or Less and is the author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life".
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