“Overeducated cartoonist” Gonick, the pen behind numerous cartoon guides to scientific and historical subjects (The Cartoon History of the Universe, etc.), returns with this look at the reigning economic system of the day.
Hypercapitalism, Kasser (Chair, Psychology/Knox Coll.; Lucy in the Mind of Lennon, 2013, etc.) writes in his accompanying text, is “a system that celebrates materialism, consumerism, and status.” It does so, he continues, at the expense of other values that could be more important, such as community, public education, environmental quality, and other like matters. Psychological studies indicate that those who fall under the spell of consumerist cultism care demonstrably less for such things as treating other people fairly and not ravaging the planet. That a psychologist and not an economist is writing about economic matters is telling, for the thrust of the argument is really one of values: not the price-setting values of supply and demand but instead those that determine whether one needs a gadget and whether by buying it he or she will improve someone else’s life. “The idea here,” writes Kasser, “is to be mindful of one’s values and act accordingly when buying things.” Of course, as an alarmed postindustrialist might say, if everyone were to act on such values, then the entire enterprise would collapse—which, the authors suggest, is the whole point, substituting an entrepreneurial spirit for saving the world for making a fortune. Those who are familiar with Gonick’s pleasingly Mad-influenced style will find no surprises in his straightforward presentation, and Kasser doesn’t deliver much news—indeed, his argument is reminiscent of the pop-cultural criticism of Vance Packard, Erich Fromm, and Alvin Toffler of decades past. Still, though it lacks the punch of a Piketty or a Stiglitz, it’s a timely counter to those who celebrate predatory economics as the best of all possible financial worlds.
Something to leave under the tree for that relative who can’t get enough of Ayn Rand, insistent that there are values to cherish other than selfishness.