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The Cartoon Introduction To Economics vol 2

The Cartoon Introduction To Economics vol 2 back

Yoram Bauman & Grady Klein

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

"What if the only thing worse than being exploited… is not being exploited?"

Discuss. The context here is the question of sweatshops and child labour which most of us, I would wager, view as fundamentally atrocious. We have, after all, outlawed both in the UK yet we're still importing and buying those goods produced under precisely those conditions such is the nature of international Free Trade. But consider this:

"If working in a sweatshop is the option someone chooses… then the other options must have been even worse."

Therefore if we ban these imports are we not condemning those working under such grim and relatively unrewarding conditions to a life of even more grinding poverty? That is, after all, why some anti-poverty activists defend sweatshops ("It's difficult to make people better off by limiting their options.") while much of the opposition to such affordable goods comes from wealthier countries and their national businesses who are more concerned about protecting their own jobs, goods and profits… which is entirely understandable.

The truth is it's tricky, and one of the many triumphs of this edifying entertainment (oh yes, it's funny) is that it's made me sit up and think about my own instinctive / knee-jerk reactions to many aspects of national and international economic policy the second they're paraded in front of me, from tax and spending to agricultural subsidies and overseas contracts. Yoram succeeds as he did in THE CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS VOL 1 by exploring the complexity of the issues with a remarkable clarity, rendering them comprehensible by making them applicable to our everyday lives, and making them utterly compelling by humanising each aspect: showing why they matter.

Bauman also demonstrates how various policies have succeeded and failed throughout history in a rollercoaster ride of booms and busts which I for one couldn't help start applying to the current government's approach to our own economic condition - most worryingly America's Great Depression! To everyone up in arms about the recent banking scandals, chapter 12 will be of particularly keen interest, while there's plenty to mull over on the subject of stable and unstable exchange rates and the European single currency. The whole trade and technology section was an eye-opener, and at the risk of sounding ignorant I hadn't realised the precise difference between monetary policy and fiscal policy. But when one considers that they're supposed to be moderating mechanisms to boost or ease off the economy in the short term, it's easy to see how any political party's dogmatic drive on tax and spending regardless of the economic climate leads to a multiple pile-up further down the road.

The section I'd like to beat raving nationalists over the head with is the miracle of the labour market: over the centuries we've experienced extreme population growth, the doubling of the labour force when women entered it, industrialisation and the continued technological change and then, of course, globalisation… and yet still the track record of employment levels (give or take some awful fluctuations which appalling consequences for very real people) is pretty damn remarkable. Looking forward instead the whole issue of our aging population, pensions and health care is far more worrying and Yoram is at pains to point out that - unlike microeconomics which deals with individuals - macroeconomics dealing with national and international policy is very much a work in progress: we don't have all the answers yet. The quest for a management system promoting long-term growth while maintaining short-term stability is still on.

The clarity, by the way, comes in the form of single sentences or connected half-sentences broken up by cartoons wittily, often colloquially interpreting them, extrapolating from them or showing their concrete applications: a 'tell and show' rather than a 'show and tell'. Remarkably the whole thing flows like a dream. I couldn't imagine digesting a whole book of prose on the subject nor being entertained while I did so, but presented like this I found I could focus far better while being given pause not just to absorb but to think about each aspect's implications.

Read this: it's empowering.

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