50 Things That Made The Modern Economy


Tim Harford tells the fascinating stories of 50 inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world.


  • Introducing 13 Minutes to the Moon Season 2

    Introducing 13 Minutes to the Moon Season 2

    09/03/2020 Duração: 03min

    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

  • Gutenberg press

    Gutenberg press

    02/03/2020 Duração: 10min

    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?

  • Slot machines

    Slot machines

    24/02/2020 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Chess algorithms

    Chess algorithms

    17/02/2020 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Auctions


    10/02/2020 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Dams


    03/02/2020 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Tulips


    27/01/2020 Duração: 10min

    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.

  • Sanitary towel

    Sanitary towel

    20/01/2020 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Wardian case

    Wardian case

    13/01/2020 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Fast food franchise

    Fast food franchise

    06/01/2020 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • CCTV


    30/12/2019 Duração: 09min

    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?

  • Retirement


    23/12/2019 Duração: 10min

    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?

  • Santa


    16/12/2019 Duração: 16min

    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.

  • Sewing machine

    Sewing machine

    09/12/2019 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Hollerith punch card

    Hollerith punch card

    02/12/2019 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Stock option

    Stock option

    25/11/2019 Duração: 10min

    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.

  • Fundraising appeal

    Fundraising appeal

    18/11/2019 Duração: 09min

    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?



    11/11/2019 Duração: 10min

    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.

  • Wedgwood


    04/11/2019 Duração: 09min

    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.

  • Glasses


    28/10/2019 Duração: 10min

    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.

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