This elementary guide to economics for the layperson maintains an insistently jokey style that strains to amuse but more often just lards the text with annoying verbiage. Buchholz, a member of the White House Economic Policy Council from 1989 to 1993 and now president of a consulting firm, sets out to provide an introduction to key economic concepts and thinkers. Starting with familiar subjects (the 1990 recession, inflation, government deficits, fiscal and monetary policy), he discusses the mechanisms of the free market. He then looks at some topical issues—education, environmental regulation, and health care—from an economist's viewpoint. International trade, foreign investment, and currency exchange are also covered, with a strong free-trade bias. Buchholz provides sensible but simplistic advice on personal investing and concludes with a brief history of economic thought from Adam Smith to contemporary supply-side economics. Scattered throughout are glib or unsupported statements such as: ``The Soviet Union collapsed because its rusty vicious system could not keep up with expectations for economic improvement.'' And unqualified conclusions abound: ``Smart governments know that by allowing trade, nations gently coerce their citizens to shift precious resources from low-productivity to high-productivity industries.'' Whatever useful information Buchholz does provide is smothered in deadening humor. He cannot even keep himself from calling economics the ``dismal science,'' going so far as to devote a passage to the question of whether Adam Smith himself was ``dismal.'' (Smith seems to have redeemed his humanity in Buchholz's eyes by tripping into a ``huge nauseous pool of goop'' while visiting a factory.) Like an irritating traveling companion distracting one from the scenery, this tries too hard to entertain while en route.
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