Monday, September 15, 2014

Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) in Words and Pictures

Economics is a vast and scary topic for many, full of mathematical formulas and arcane concepts that try to explain how finances, governments, laws, and money work. Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) tackles all of that and more in a very readable, visual, and entertaining way. It is a large, dense book, and it has many facets. It looks at the works of key theorists and contains many quotations and paraphrases from their works, such as this look at Adam Smith:
But the book is also a historical look at the major players who shaped economics theories and social policies. It examines the shifts from an agrarian economy to the effects of mechanization and consolidation of the Industrial Revolution to the competing models of capitalism and communism of the Cold War and beyond.
The historical narrative plays out until the very recent past, and the ideas become very personalized. The book takes its shots at people and practices who look at economic matters in facile or deceptive manner. It also speaks plainly about some stark realities.
In the end, this book is more than a simple delineation of economics theories. It explains those, but it situates them in historical contexts, and also describes how they have led up to contemporary conditions. It is as much a textbook as it is a commentary on modern life and even a critique of some commonly held myths that get often repeated by talking heads on television or other media. This book is very much based in facts, but it also is social commentary and a call for the reader to be informed and take action. It should also be stated that although there are some sections about other countries, the vast majority of this book is about how the US economy operates.

This graphic novel was written by Michael Goodwin, a freelancer who has traveled extensively internationally and written about a number of various topics. I felt that he editorialized throughout the book, but to me that was a welcomed practice. Too often textbooks are written as if they are wisdom passed down from above, and at least Goodwin admits where he is coming from. The artwork by Dan E. Burr is clear, strong, and emphatic, balancing a sense of humor with its informative graphics and clean storytelling. Burr has been making comics for decades and is best known for his graphic novel collaborations with James Vance, the Eisner Award winning Kings in Disguise and its sequel On the Ropes. Goodwin discusses his work on Economix in this interview with John Hogan of The Graphic Novel Reporter.

The reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "a dense yet quite accessible read," going on, "Goodwin brilliantly contextualize [sic] economic theories with historical narrative, while Burr's simple but elegant illustration employs classical techniques like caricaturing politicians and symbolizing big businesses (as a gleeful factory) to help the reader visualize difficult concepts. Brett Schenker called it "one of the most important [graphic novels] of the decade," and added, "It shows that the comic medium can transcend people with funny powers and silly costumes and instead be used to educate, activate and motivate individuals to learn more about their world but also their role in it." Zenestex called it "an approachable book for anybody who wants to broaden their understanding of economics beyond what the evening news delivers."

Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) was published by Abrams ComicArts, who has reviews, a teachers guide, and more here. The book's official blog is also a treasure trove of resources and information. If you are interested in economics, go check it out!

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