#100wordreview – The Cost Disease (William J Baumol) [Book]

The rising cost of healthcare is a global phenomenon. Why? Because the relative productivity of labour intensive industries inevitably – and inexorably – declines. Computers get cheaper; healthcare doesn’t. It’s a simple idea, now proven by historic data and in need of appreciation. The cost disease allows – encourages, even – affordable increases in spending on health. Though incisive, Baumol’s book inevitably labours this central argument. But to understand trade-offs in public spending you need a firm grasp of the cost disease. This book provides a means to that end, and delivers important context for any discussion about healthcare, education, economics and politics.

Amazon / Wikipedia / Yale University Press

The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn’t

Paperback, 288 pages, ISBN 9780300198157, published 18 October 2013

#100wordreview – Harry’s Last Stand (Harry Leslie Smith) [Book]

An emotive defence of the society denied to us by neoliberalism. Tales from Harry’s 91 years are woven into a fact-of-the-matter narrative of today’s status quo. From upsetting accounts of a hungry childhood in the Great Depression to triumphs of love against the odds. Parallels are drawn between our brutal past and today’s social malaise, with striking effect. Harry’s angry and disturbed, but most of all he’s worried. Is society so inflicted by the wilful myopia and amnesia of government that Britain’s post-war progress will be completely undone? Harry’s seen this before, and we should listen.

Amazon / Google Books / Icon Books

Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save it

Hardback, 224 pages, ISBN: 9781848317369, published 5 June 2014

#100wordreview – Quack Policy. Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism (Jamie Whyte) [Book]


I found this IEA publication very difficult to read, because almost every paragraph is flawed; sometimes logically, often evidentially and at times morally. The book takes what any undergrad might learn in Econ101 and applies it to current challenges and policy responses in health and climate change. All with gusto and arrogance. Whyte has little regard for the policy context, or for much of economic thought from the last 40 years. Most arguments depend on false analogies, which are painful to read. In the author’s own words: “Science progresses by ignoring mere opinion, expert or otherwise”. Thank goodness for that.

#100wordreview – The Undercover Economist Strikes Back (Tim Harford) [Book]

Tim Harford brings us some macro. For me, a less interesting topic than those of his previous books. Nevertheless, he’s a great writer with a knack for simplifying tricky concepts and, as with his previous books, this is an enjoyable read. Harford only really dips his toe into the complexities of macroeconomics, but I was still able to gain a better perspective on the current debates; the different arguments being stripped – as far as possible – of the politics that envelop them. The book is exhaustively researched and the reader is treated to plenty of interesting factual and historical tidbits throughout. 

#100wordreview – The Humble Economist (Tony Culyer) [Book]

A collection of 21 abridged essays summarising Tony Culyer’s most important contributions. Fellow health economists may have already read the book’s constituent parts, but much can be gained from digesting them in this form. The book presents Culyer’s work as a cohesive set of ideas, woven together in his unmistakable style and approach; best characterised by the book’s title. For non-economists interested in health research, the book disarms economics of its alienating features that lead to confusion and misunderstanding about what economists actually do and why they do it. For economists, herein lies an exemplar approach to your discipline.

#100wordreview – Never Again? The story of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (Nicholas Timmins) [Book]

I increasingly find politics a bore, even in relation to health and economic policy. Timmins’s Never Again? precludes my usual reaction, providing a lucid and engaging narrative. The story guides us through the Act’s conception, rejection, amendment and assent, identifying the key players from academia and Westminster along the way. The book enables you to leave your political inclinations at the door, and at times I found myself sympathising with Lansley! It also provides a nice overview of the ultimate nature of the Act at the end of its tumultuous journey; something I struggled to figure out at the time.

#100wordreview – Les Misérables (Victor Hugo) [Book]

Society condemns the poor. But people can rise above their means and be vindicated by society. The premise of Les Misérables will never expire. The social ills of today differ only marginally from those of Hugo’s epoch, and the story’s pertinence will never wane. Hugo’s writing is inspiring and poetic throughout. The descriptions of love – for one’s child, one’s sweetheart, one’s freedom, one’s country – are incredibly moving. Confronted with these 531,000 words, it certainly helps to be a bit of a Francophile with a general interest in history. Nevertheless, I challenge anyone not to be enlightened by this extraordinary book.