Book Review: Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work)

by Victoria Haykin

When I began my studies at the Diplomatic Academy, I was introduced for the first time in my academic career to the field of economics. Prepared to be entirely disinterested, instead I found my curiosity piqued. Shortly after lectures in Microeconomics began, I picked up a copy of Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work) written by Michael Goodwin and illustrated by Dan E. Bur. This book provides an innovative introduction to world of economics complete with comic-book inspired illustrations, offering a delightful twist on the more traditional “For Dummies” guides.

Over eight chapters, Economix presents the key tenets of modern economic thought in an intriguing and easily-accessible format. By his own admission, author Michael Goodwin is more of an armchair economist than a professionally-educated academic. He was first attracted to the subject after realizing that even “the experts are baffled” at times. If they are, he queries, “how can the rest of us understand what’s going on?”

In his personal pursuit of understanding, Goodwin returns ad fontes, consulting “the original sources, the great economists.” Soon, he begins to see “a bigger picture,” one he feels has been inadequately or ineloquently addressed by more mainstream sources. The book, then, is not strictly a “comics version of an econ 101 text,” but rather something of an historical exposition of power and the economy.

Economix is peppered with well-placed quotes from the “original sources” and contextualizes the progress of economic thought both historically and politically. Indeed in many chapters, the great economists, as illustrated by Burr, lead you through their work. Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard-Keynes spring to life, all of whom offer explanations of economic theory in both their own words and those crafted for them by Goodwin.

Caveat emptor: Although Goodwin tries “to cover the whole world,” as an American, the author has a tendency to focus on the economy of the United States. Nevertheless, Chapter 1 (entitled “The Invisible Hand”) takes readers back to seventeenth-century Europe. Goodwin narrates the rise of capitalism from the point of view of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, finance minister of France, who was a firm mercantilist. Colbert argued that “a state is measured entirely by the quantity of silver it possess.”

Colbert’s mercantilist approach quickly became popular. And the power of the Dutch, who were already by this time making efficient use of banking and whose economy relied more heavily upon trade and manufacturing than agrarian pursuits (all “capitalist innovations”), became threatened. As Dutch power waned, the French and British fought to gain supremacy in Europe. In response to Britain’s rising capitalist economy, French economists were first prompted to rethink mercantilism.

Of course, after an introduction to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, discussion quickly turns to the Americas. But returns to Europe frequently thereafter until Chapter 3 (“The Money Power”). The book then follows America’s rise to economic eminence following the construction of a transcontinental railroad in 1869 through to World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. Chapter 7 even offers an amusing elaboration of “Reaganomics” and the role of the Fed, with the very final chapter bringing readers up-to-speed on “The World Today.” Here again a great deal is devoted to government spending in America during the Bush administration and the mortgage crisis of the late 2000s.

In addition to Economix, Goodwin maintains a website (economixcomix.com). There he manages a blog and offers supplementary “comics” some of which address highly-politicized issues such as Obamacare and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. To be sure, these subjects are elaborated in a not entirely un-opinionated manner, but they offer extra material for all those who are left wanting more.

If nothing else, Economix equips readers with enough of the essentials to begin examining slightly more complex issues for themselves. Indeed, Goodwin encourages readers not to take the book “as gospel.” Instead, he urges us “to check facts, find other opinions, and think things through for [ourselves].” Altogether a highly recommended read for all those who find (or will shortly find) themselves in a situation similar to my own: Intrigued by the surprising intricacies the study of economics has to offer, but at a loss as to how to jumpstart their own intellectual journey.

Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work)
Written by Michael Goodwin
Illustrated by Dan E. Burr
Abrams ComicArts, New York (2012)
Available in English and German at Thalia.at.

 

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