With two days of snow, not a lot but enough that I had to shovel when I got home from work, and then some evening obligations, my time for blogging got cut way short. As a result, it has taken me all that time to write this post. Sigh. That’s a big, I’m tired of winter sigh in case you were wondering.
I managed to finish a second book about economics in 2016. This one is a bit more unusual as it is graphic nonfiction. Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work) by Michael Goodwin is a most excellent and easy to follow lesson in the history of economics. We learn about capitalism, communism, socialism, mercantilism, Adam Smith, Marx, Keynes, David Ricardo and classic political economy and all kinds of really interesting stuff. And it is all drawn in fun and often entertaining black and white comic panels by Dan Burr.
Before he wrote the book, Goodwin didn’t know much at all about economics. He had questions and so did some reading. But the reading was unsatisfactory because it just provided little pieces of information and no big picture. So he went back to the original sources and started putting all the pieces together. He decided that while it was complicated, no one part of it was that hard to understand and people should know about it. Since he wrote comics, a “comic book” on the history of the economy seemed like a good idea because:
We’re citizens of a democracy. Most of the issues we vote on come down to economics. It’s our responsibility to understand what we’re voting about.
And so Economix was born. It is not an Econ 101 textbook and has no intention to be that. What it does do is focus on history and basic principles to provide a means to understand the economy and how we got to where we are today. While the history is pretty global, the focus is ultimately on the United States economy.There is theory too, obviously, but it is pretty easy to understand. One of the big things I learned is that David Ricardo, someone I have never heard of, is pretty much responsible for changing economics from a practical, reality-based approach to abstract modeling and maths. Why might this matter you ask? Because, since Ricardo, when economists talk about the economy everything is based on an abstract model that makes massive assumptions about pretty much everything. In my mind it is kind of like Plato’s theory of Forms. There is the actual chair you are sitting on and then there is this theoretical ideal chair that doesn’t, and can never, actually exist. Current economics is based on that theoretical chair. It’s no wonder economists get things so wrong sometimes.
While the book covers all the major moments and ideas and, in my view, does it really well, you should know that Goodwin has a definite opinion. Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes are rah! rah! And Ricardo and Milton Friedman are boo! boo! Goodwin comes down in favor of mixed economies and a Keynesian approach to economics.
Learning what I have so far, I share his opinion so I had no problem with his taking sides. If, however, you are a Friedman fan or think Marx got it all right, you might be irked by Goodwin’s position. Should you have no idea about anything to do with economics, don’t let Goodwin’s conclusions keep you from reading the book. I don’t think they will get in the way of you deciding for yourself what you think about the information he provides.
In addition to the comic, there is a glossary of terms, an index and a couple pages of source material if you want to launch out into further reading from here. If you find the very idea of economics intimidating, Economix is a pretty good place to start slaying the beast.