Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Economix by Michael Goodwin

Lowdown: Civilization's recent history through the prism of economics, told using comics.
There is ample evidence to indicate complex ideas can be explained in popular terms. That is, in terms even my grandmother would be able to understand (in her grave). The best example for that would be Richard Dawkins, who got my award for writing last year’s best book by virtue of extending the format so as to maximize its effectiveness.
Economix does pretty much the same thing as Dawkins did. It takes a complex set of ideas, that concept we regularly refer to as “economics”, and it goes out to explain it in a book that reviews human history through the eyes of economics. For example, it tells us about World War 1 not in terms of this battle and that battle, but rather in the terms of the economic struggles that led to it as well as “won” it. As it progresses through history it exposes us to the financial theories prevailing at the time, from Smith through Marx to Keynes and neoliberalism. Its message is pretty clear: the bigger trends of our human civilizations are the direct result of economic ones; we should therefore do our best to understand economics.
Economix is not just another achievement in the field of popularizing the portrayal of complex idea; it is a mighty achievement, similar on scale to Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality. The reason for that is brilliantly simple: the whole story, told to us in person by author Michael Goodwin, is actually done in comics! That deserves a major “wow”, because here is a book that in many respects eclipses university grade material yet is incredibly accessible. Not only is it accessible, it is a pleasure to read, too! Credit obviously needs to go in the direction of its illustrator, Dan E. Burr.
“Plot” wise, Economix takes with its story all the way up to this year. In doing that, it shows us amazingly clearly how the wrongs of the past keep on repeating themselves. I strongly suspect neoliberals and the likes of American Republican or Australian Liberal supporters would classify it is left wing propaganda, but I will argue that one cannot argue with facts. And the facts are firmly supporting one side. I’ll put it this way: I doubt anyone reading Economix would be able to vote Romney afterwards. Not that Obama is a star, but in light of what Economix teaches its reader one cannot call the neoliberal fiscal policy anything but a sad joke.
I thus learned quite a lot from this seemingly simple book. I learned, for example, why my childhood days of coming home early from school to a welcoming home with a father and other relatives coming back from work the same time I did is no longer feasible (the answer has to do with the Vietnam War, amplified by heavy doses of Reaganomics as it was applied in various guises since the eighties). This annoys me a hell of a lot: my main problem in life at the moment is my inability to relax and/or feel like I’m a good parent, and the stress that’s causing that is all to do with the demands of work. Demands that, at the better financial times of my childhood days, did not exist. The social effects go further: as a child I used to spend most of my leisure time outside with friends, totally unsupervised; can anyone see that happening now? Read Economix and you will see that it is because of financial circumstances that we border ourselves, and our kids, up.
Moving back to the global level, our world is currently troubled by the problem of getting out of the GFC. Economies such as Spain's are set to impose austerity measures upon themselves; the USA is printing two dollars for every dollar it actually produces; and in Australia, a country that managed to escape the wrath of the GFC through its natural resources and a healthy amount of spending, the whole fiscal debate revolves around producing a budget surplus as quickly as possible. Who would have believed we have Labor running the show when they are doing their damn best to out-Liberal the Liberals?
The point is, in all three cases I presented above the proposed and implemented policies are clearly wrong (if you don’t believe me, read Economix). Yet the powers that be are allowed to go ahead with measures that would make the vast majority of the population miserable as they give the powerful ones, that famous one percent [of the one percent], their license to print money. This can only happen in a democracy when the general population is ignorant; Economix is exactly the type of cure to remedy this sad situation with. It worked for me!
Overall: Here is a heavy book I did not mind carrying with me in this era when the ebook vastly dominates my reading. Invaluable, entertaining and dare I say revolutionary, you owe it to yourself to give Economix a go. This is a 5 out of 5 stars of a book that takes the whole format a step forward.

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