A cartoon-laced, elementary but not terribly dumbed-down introduction to the dismal science by American Public Media Marketplace producer Hirsch.
Anyone seeking to explain the economy, much less economics, in simple language has his or her work cut out, particularly since the natural tendency is to go simpleton-level simple in the face of complexity. Hearts may sink at Hirsch’s opener, which posits as a sample enterprise an ice-cream van. An ice-cream van with public shares and derivatives? Fortunately, the author then steers the discussion onto generally more grown-up ground without ever substituting a liquor store as exemplar. Even there, the ideal reader seems to have limited ability to conceive of abstract entities gauged in abstract terms (“It helps to think of the entire market as a body, and the indices like the readings from a thermometer”). In the urge to simplify, Hirsch sometimes glosses over important realities; he tells us what short selling is, for instance, but not how risky and ruinous it can be. Even so, moral hazard—that fine economic concept—is never far away from his discussion of commodity trades, derivatives and securitization, with the dialogue describing the last take on a kind of I’ve-got-a-bridge-to-sell-you sense of surrealism. While some things resist simplification, others make good sense when reduced to cartoons or cartoonlike textual explanations, as when a banker walks away smiling from a teller’s window while an ordinary consumer stalks away fuming, the explanation for which is the discriminatory lending rate of 1 percent for the former and 5 for the latter.
Quibbles aside, if this can help those ordinary consumers understand what’s happening to their money, this accessible, often entertaining book will serve a valuable purpose.