How Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work) in Words and Pictures
I’m lucky. My parents gave me a basic training in personal finance growing up, so I had the kind of economic background that served me well as an adult. For example, I knew how to avoid getting in over my head on a mortgage and why it’s a good thing to pay your credit cards in full every month. Many people don’t have that knowledge, because it’s in no one’s best interest to provide it to them.
On the macro level, I can’t help but think that our missing knowledge about money and economics means we lack confidence evaluating financial proposals, which leads to incorrect or dangerous political decisions. Writer Michael Goodwin and artist Dan E. Burr promise to educate us about the basics so many of us missed out on, and to my pleasure and surprise, they succeed brilliantly.
Economix concentrates on history, following economic philosophy (and often the resulting influence on politics) from Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and the definition of capitalism up to the Occupy movement and the rise of China and India as world economic powers. It’s incredibly educational as well as very readable.
I was leery of the praise various economists lavished on the work — not that I disagree with them, I trust that they know whereof they speak — because many books of this type have valuable content but ignore the comic format. They simply break up their text into chunks and call them panels, with cute little drawings that don’t significantly contribute. Economix has plenty of text, but the images are necessary as well. For example, an early panel reminds us that we can “check facts, find other opinions, and think things through yourself.” It’s framed as a computer screen, subtly reminding us that the internet makes these things easy to accomplish and contributing meaning through the art.
In addition to the various charts, other images show us likenesses of key economic and political figures or make points memorable through well-selected illustrations, often with humor. (One favorite: when various automobile-related companies destroyed mass transit trolley lines, a cartoon commuter says, “I guess it’s time to freely choose to buy cars.”) I learned so much while enjoying reading this book. Of particular interest were
- the parts of Adam Smith’s philosophy that aren’t as popular with the devoutly free-market capitalists, such as the need for high wages instead of high profits
- the flaw in abstract economic models
- that economies run best when workers have enough money to also be consumers
- the virtues of a mixed economy, one where some sectors are externally controlled
- the connection between economic and political power
- bubbles, slumps, and booms
- all the key moments in modern history that we never got to in school
- how economics came to be called the “dismal science”
- why economics ultimately failed to describe the real world
Educated citizens make for a better country; along those lines, Economix is essential reading for our democracy. The book’s website has sample pages, notes, and references for further reading. (The publisher provided a review copy.)