Laugh-a-minute or not, an accessible introduction to a densely complex subject.

THE CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS

VOLUME TWO: MACROECONOMICS

A lighthearted effort to make the dismal science less dismal, though too often about as funny as a Yakov Smirnoff set.

Economics is all about managing scarce resources, money being one of them. Macroeconomics, the big-picture aspect of economics, “has two big goals,” writes Bauman (billed as the world’s “only stand-up economist”)—namely, to establish means by which living standards increase over time, which is where old Adam Smith’s invisible hand comes in, and to “explain how economies grow…and why economies collapse,” which, considering the collapsing state of things, makes the field both useful and timely. The “holy grail” of macroeconomics, Bauman writes, is “how to get economies to grow without crashing,” which would seem to defy the laws of thermodynamics—and there the fun begins, for on one hand you have Milton Friedman, on the other John Maynard Keynes, and any number of disparate and often contentious approaches to making everyone rich without, in the end, making everyone destitute. There’s a lot of ground that Bauman and artist Klein have to cover, so much that sometimes useful concepts—Joseph Schumpeter’s suggestive theory of “creative destruction,” for instance—get only a panel or two. Even so, Bauman hits his targets with pleasing accuracy. For example, he and Klein get, in just a few pages, what it has taken other writers whole volumes to express on the matter of the Keynesian view of the causes of cyclical unemployment. Bauman is also pleasingly subversive without overtly seeming to be so: He gives a lively, sardonic view of how inflation serves as a de facto means of wage cutting in the age-old war of supply and demand. The cartoons are ample, but the yucks few, particularly when Bauman recycles the old saw, beloved of Reagan and his Reaganomic acolytes: “In a recession, you lose your job…in a depression, I lose mine.” Which goes to show, it is called the dismal science for a reason. 

Laugh-a-minute or not, an accessible introduction to a densely complex subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8090-3361-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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