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50 Things That Made the Modern Economy podcast

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

Tim Harford tells the fascinating stories of inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world.

Tim Harford tells the fascinating stories of inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world.

 

#110

Introducing: Season 2 of 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter

How animals make us smarter – we thought you might like to hear our brand new episode. It’s about a robotic arm inspired by an elephant’s trunk. For more, search for 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter wherever you get your podcasts. #30Animals ... Read more

22 Jul 2021

18 MINS

18:04

22 Jul 2021


#109

Introducing 13 Minutes to the Moon Season 2

Jump on-board a doomed mission to the Moon. Apollo 13: the extraordinary story, told by the people who flew it and saved it. Search for 13 Minutes to the Moon wherever you get your podcasts. #13MinutestotheMoon ... Read more

09 Mar 2020

03 MINS

03:53

09 Mar 2020


#108

Gutenberg press

Johannes Gutenberg's printing press changed the course of human history. It created a new way of doing business, drastically reduced the cost and speed of making books, and enabled texts, ideas and arguments to spread further and faster than ever before. So why did he struggle to make money from it? ... Read more

02 Mar 2020

10 MINS

10:10

02 Mar 2020


#107

Slot machines

First developed by a toy company in the 1890s, slot machines have become one of the most profitable tools of the gambling trade - but many who play them say winning isn't the point. So why can't people pull themselves away? Tim Harford looks under the spinning wheels and flashing lights to see what these devices reveal about the business of addiction. ... Read more

24 Feb 2020

09 MINS

09:34

24 Feb 2020


#106

Chess algorithms

In 1997, Garry Kasparov, widely regarded as the world's greatest chess player, was defeated by Deep Blue, a computer. But how much did that reveal about the 'brainpower' of machines? Tim Harford explains by delving into the history of algorithms. They've been used by mathematicians and scientists for millennia, but have acquired a new level of power and importance in the digital age. ... Read more

17 Feb 2020

09 MINS

09:55

17 Feb 2020


#105

Auctions

Are things only worth what people are willing to pay for them? Tim Harford explains why a method of buying and selling that originated in ancient times has endured to the present day, and is now underpinning the success of some of the internet's most powerful brands. ... Read more

10 Feb 2020

09 MINS

09:51

10 Feb 2020


#104

Dams

From reliable water supplies to large-scale electricity generation, the benefits brought by dams can be huge. But so can the problems. Tim Harford explains how these massive structures have changed the world for many, but led to catastrophe for others. ... Read more

03 Feb 2020

09 MINS

09:51

03 Feb 2020


#103

Tulips

In the 1630s, the Netherlands experienced 'tulip mania' - a surge in demand for tulips from wealthy buyers, with some individual bulbs costing twenty times more than a carpenter's annual salary. Then, in February 1637, the price suddenly crashed. It's often cited as the first great financial bubble, but is that really the case? Tim Harford tries to sort fact from fiction. ... Read more

27 Jan 2020

10 MINS

10:01

27 Jan 2020


#102

Sanitary towel

In the early 20th Century, makers of sanitary towels had to find a way to sell an item that some people found too embarrassing to mention. In some parts of the world, that stigma still hasn't gone away. Tim Harford charts the controversial history of a quietly revolutionary product. ... Read more

20 Jan 2020

09 MINS

09:46

20 Jan 2020


#101

Wardian case

Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward's miniature greenhouses made it far easier to successfully transport plants, spreading them far beyond their native lands. But that led to major consequences that Ward hadn't foreseen. Tim Harford tells the story of how glass boxes became powerful weapons in the hands of British colonisers. ... Read more

13 Jan 2020

09 MINS

09:58

13 Jan 2020


#100

Fast food franchise

There are more than 36,000 McDonald's restaurants around the world - but if the McDonald brothers had had their way, that might never have happened. Tim Harford tells the story of how milkshake-mixer salesman Ray Kroc turned their burger business into a global giant, and explains the principles that made his franchising model such a success. ... Read more

06 Jan 2020

09 MINS

09:51

06 Jan 2020


#99

CCTV

Surveillance cameras were invented so Nazi scientists could observe rocket launches from a safe distance. They've come a long way since then, and are gathering more data about us than ever before. But in a world where millions happily carry smartphones in our pockets, how do we really feel about being watched? ... Read more

30 Dec 2019

09 MINS

09:51

30 Dec 2019


#98

Retirement

As populations age, pension systems around the world are coming under strain. Governments, employers and economists are searching for ways to alleviate the problem - but could traditional societies hold some valuable lessons? ... Read more

23 Dec 2019

10 MINS

10:32

23 Dec 2019


#97

Santa

Why does Father Christmas wear red and white? It's not for the reason you may think. In an updated version of an episode from 2018, Tim Harford tells the story of Christmas and consumerism. ... Read more

16 Dec 2019

16 MINS

16:07

16 Dec 2019


#96

Sewing machine

Women's lives were transformed by sewing machines, which made a "never-ending, ever-beginning task" far less arduous and time-consuming. But Isaac Singer, who made his fortune from these devices, was far from a champion of women's rights. Tim Harford tells a story of how self-interest can sometimes be a powerful driver for social change. ... Read more

09 Dec 2019

09 MINS

09:37

09 Dec 2019


#95

Hollerith punch card

Data is a hugely profitable commodity - if you know how to process it. Tim Harford tells the story of Herman Hollerith, and how his 19th-century machine for processing census data laid the foundations for some of the world's most valuable companies. ... Read more

02 Dec 2019

09 MINS

09:53

02 Dec 2019


#94

Stock option

In theory, stock options should motivate executives to perform better by tying their pay to their company's performance. So why do some argue the practice has just become a way for the highest earners to boost their salaries even further? Tim Harford turns to ancient Greek philosophy and Bill Clinton's presidency in search of the answer. ... Read more

25 Nov 2019

10 MINS

10:05

25 Nov 2019


#93

Fundraising appeal

Tim Harford goes back to the 1900s to tell the story of how charity fundraising became big business. But in the social media age, what's the most effective way to get people to give? ... Read more

18 Nov 2019

09 MINS

09:53

18 Nov 2019


#92

SWIFT

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication - SWIFT - solved some big problems with international financial transfers, making them more secure and reliable than ever before. However, as Tim Harford explains, the global political climate means it might now be facing its greatest challenge. ... Read more

11 Nov 2019

10 MINS

10:05

11 Nov 2019


#91

Wedgwood

Josiah Wedgwood is arguably the best-known name in the history of pottery - but it's not just his pots that made their mark on history. Tim Harford explains how a business model Wedgwood devised in the 18th Century still underpins the modern fashion industry. ... Read more

04 Nov 2019

09 MINS

09:38

04 Nov 2019


#90

Glasses

Spectacles have been around for centuries, and have a huge impact on many people's quality of life. So why is it estimated that more than two billion people aren't aware that they need them? Tim Harford considers the difference that seeing clearly makes to the world. ... Read more

28 Oct 2019

10 MINS

10:27

28 Oct 2019


#89

Vickrey turnstile

In 1952, economist William Vickrey devised an innovative system of turnstiles to help solve a major problem on New York’s subway network. It never became a reality, but, as Tim Harford explains, the idea behind it has had a major influence on how companies decide what to charge us for goods and services today. ... Read more

21 Oct 2019

09 MINS

09:44

21 Oct 2019


#88

GPS

How dependent is the world on GPS - and what would happen if it stopped working? Tim Harford explains why it's not just our ability to navigate that would be affected. ... Read more

14 Oct 2019

09 MINS

09:58

14 Oct 2019


#87

Bonsack machine

In 1881, James Bonsack developed a machine that made it far easier to mass-produce cigarettes. But at the time, other tobacco products were much more popular – so manufacturers had to find new ways of getting people’s attention. Tim Harford explains why the methods they devised are still working on consumers today. ... Read more

07 Oct 2019

09 MINS

09:35

07 Oct 2019


#86

Prohibition

When the US outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, it inadvertently created one of the most successful black markets in the world. Tim Harford considers how much it costs to make something illegal, and what a failed law reveals about the way criminals make their money. ... Read more

30 Sep 2019

10 MINS

10:07

30 Sep 2019


#85

Interface Message Processor

Arpanet was a computer network developed in the 1960s that paved the way for today's internet. At its heart was the Interface Message Processor: a massive, heavily armoured box containing the technology that made it possible. Tim Harford takes a look inside. ... Read more

23 Sep 2019

10 MINS

10:20

23 Sep 2019


#84

Canned food

Developed for the military, dodging bureaucracy and fuelled by venture capital: canned food blazed a trail many of today's biggest tech innovations have followed. Tim Harford reveals the surprising lessons and cautionary tales lurking under the lid. ... Read more

16 Sep 2019

09 MINS

09:57

16 Sep 2019


#83

Interchangeable parts

Tim Harford tells the story of how Honoré Blanc, a gun-maker in 18th-century France, transformed the way the world manufactures things - but couldn't benefit from his own innovations. ... Read more

09 Sep 2019

10 MINS

10:30

09 Sep 2019


#82

Oil

The price of oil is arguably the most important in the world economy. How did we become so dependent - and are we ever likely to wean ourselves off it? ... Read more

02 Sep 2019

08 MINS

08:59

02 Sep 2019


#81

Chatbot

It's claimed that some computers can now pass the Turing test: convincing people that they are human. Tim Harford asks how important that distinction is, and what it means for the future of human interaction. ... Read more

26 Aug 2019

10 MINS

10:03

26 Aug 2019