The economy is a daunting subject, seemingly the primary topic of discussion for newscasters since the past forever. The problem with the economy that it’s such a vast and weird subject that it can be borderline disastrous to form an opinion on the economy if one were to listen to nothing but the biased news sources du jour. Biased isn’t to say that they are bad, just a friendly reminder that there is no such thing as a truly unbiased opinion, especially when it comes to the media. What Economix, by Michael Goodwin, does is craft a smart and fun lesson on how those biases have formed the concept of “economy” since the distant past and up to today.
Writer: Michael Goodwin
Artist: Dan E. Burr
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts
Age: All Ages
(Surprised that it is all ages? While concepts might be difficult to grasp for kids, there isn’t really anything I would forbid a child from reading in Economix, so there is nothing in the book that a particularly interested kid should not be challenged with if it is a topic that intrigues them)
Economix functions as a basic introduction to how the economy currently works, and how it has been perceived through history. Actually, one of the biggest strengths of the book is the way that it highlights economic factors as prime motivators in the march of history. The economy does not just evolve on its own as though it were a set of mathematical rules, although plenty of economic theorists might have thought so throughout time. What Economix gives us is an opportunity to overhear that conversation and even participate in it through forming our own opinions.
History, and economic theory can only be thought of as an aspect of history, isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem. The outcomes are rarely obvious, and deducing how we arrived at our current situation might as well be rocket science (at least rocket science seems to have some hard laws). Goodwin realizes that to understand how the economy functions in it’s current iteration involves more than taking a snapshot of current affairs. Fortunately for the reader, Economix manages to explain the economy while not taking itself too seriously. If anything, humour disarms the seriousness of the topic and exposes the economy for what it is: a human creation filled with as many flaws as any of us. And while the flaws may be more apparent now, it’s easy to forget that, like anything else, there have been and will be ups and downs. Just remember, when human greed is involved, there is a tendency towards ups for few and downs for many.
Cartooning, comics being a part of that over-arching term, are great tools for expressing a lot with only a few lines. Economix tends to cast greedy wealthy people as fat cats who don’t care for the well-being of the lesser fortunate members of society. Working with archetypes is one way to convey a message quickly, and even if it does tend to result in simplifications of ideas, at least readers leave with some idea how people have interacted with commerce throughout time. The book especially shines when dealing with more current affairs, which is one of the reasons this book might benefit a wider audience than say, a history of the economy.
One of the great things about this book is the way that Michael Goodwin takes into consideration the source of any writing he is considering. By sharing his research into their source origins Goodwin exposes the biases that may have gone into creating their theories. It is a constant reminder that history is shaped by people, not theories. Even the most correct and astute economic theory is bound to have gaping holes, due to the biases of those who shaped it. The fact that Goodwin can do this while creating such a fun to read and informative comic book is pretty amazing.
Economix reveals the power that sequential art has to communicate information effectively. David Bach, author of The Automatic Millionaire, said about Economix that “You could read ten books on the subject and not glean as much information.” I think Economix may have saved me from having to read ten books on a topic that I was struggling to come to terms with and, at the end of the day, the economy is man-made and only needs to be as complicated as we make it. I strongly recommend this book to people who are interested or disinterested in money (basically anyone!). Difficult ideas are presented in a clear way that seems to be difficult for textbooks to do, which in itself is some kind of triumph.