Economix: terrific cartoon history of economics

One of my favorite books is Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. With simple comic art, McCloud presents the history of sequential comics, and how they work. It's as much about psychology as it is about the way comics use standard structural elements that work on a subconscious level to tell a story. McCloud appears in the book as a cartoon narrator, speaking directly to the reader, which is a very effective way to share information.

I'm also a big fan of Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, a series of comic books that, as the title suggests, presents the history of the universe from the big bang up to the present era. It combines factual history with a bit of humor.

Both McCloud and Gonick came to mind when I read Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), by Michael Goodwin and illustrated by Dan E. Burr. Told as a history, it ties important world events (wars, revolutions, technological progress, resource depletion, pollution, etc.) to their economic consequences, and explains the far-reaching (and often unintended effects) of economic policy decisions on people and the planet. Dan E. Burr's appealing illustrations add punch, humor, and clarity to Goodwin's already-excellent storytelling skills.

IMG 5177The first 20 pages or so are about the early history of economic policy (Jean-Baptiste's mercantilism and Francois Quesnay's laissez-faire ideas). It then spends some time examining Adam Smith's revolutionary book, Wealth of Nations. I've often heard people cite Smith's Invisible Hand as the reason why a laissez-faire free market is the best economic policy, but Smith actually warned that free markets were vulnerable. He believed that monopolies and cartels will always try to escape the market and undermine public interest by tricking and corrupting the government into doing favors for them. From the book:

Adam Smith was never dogmatic; he knew markets weren't perfect. Markets won't enforce laws, protect borders, or provide public goods, such as street cleaning, that everyone wants but nobody has much incentive to provide.

For that matter, Smith thought government should favor war–related industries so they would be around if war came, protect wage workers (because they had less bargaining power than employers), keep banks honest, issue patents, protect new industries until they were on their feet, cap the interest rate, control disease, establish education standards (so brain–dead jobs like the one in the pin workshop didn't turn workers into brain–dead people), and even provide public amusements.

IMG 5178It becomes clear early on that Goodwin thinks laissez-faire capitalism leads to problems (like private affluence and public squalor) and that he favors a mixed economy (free enterprise combined with socialism). Since I'm basically a democrat (with a civil libertarian streak), I agreed with Goodwin's interpretations of historical events of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries -- the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the robber barons, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, World War II, the permanent war economy, Reagan's disastrous reign, Alan Greenspan's creepy machinations, and George Bush Junior's wholesale looting of the economy by giving tax cuts to the rich (which doesn't work). Most presidents receive a failing grade from Goodwin. The exceptions are Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton. Most of the other presidents were in cahoots with the ultra rich, who will never be satisfied until they own every crumb of the economic pie.

IMG 5179Economics books usually bore me, but in the hands of Goodwin and Burr, the subject was engrossing (and like Gonick, often funny). Light switches flicked on in my mind every few pages or so, and after reading Economix I felt like I understood many fundamental aspects about the way the world works that I had been too lazy to learn about before.

On his website, Goodwin has a list of books he used as sources when writing Economix. He puts the books in order of how highly he recommends them. (Highly Recommended: "James Carroll, House of War. A stunning history of the Pentagon, the postwar military, and the economic institutions that feed it." Read but Not Recommended: "Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged. Porn for rich people. In Rand’s world, rich people are rich because they’re better than everyone else, and they’d be even richer except that nasty inferior people keep convincing them to give away their money.")

Economix is a book I'm going to buy and give to people.

Buy Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work) on Amazon


  1. For what it’s worth, few Presidents did as much to secure American capitalism as the Roosevelts; Kennedy and Eisenhower likewise were pretty instrumental in strengthening and securing the post-War consensus model of managerial capitalism. But the Roosevelts were instrumental in securing the place and the long-term stability of of corporate capitalism, the first Roosevelt especially so (and likewise the rest of the so-called Progressive movement).

    In fact, without continuous state intervention, capitalism would have neither developed nor survived, neither in the core regions in which it first developed in nor in the colonial zones of extraction and eventual marketing it would come to exploit. There’s a reason capitalism didn’t develop in, say, the stateless zones of much of Africa or the Americas, and instead developed in regions with already existing centralized rule or developing centralized state rule. The accumulation, centralization, and deployment of capital requires a strong state, both for the necessary sorts of infrastructure development (which allow the socialization of costs and the relative privatization of the ensuing profits) and more strong-armed tactics, from the suppression of other sorts of legal regimes and labor practices to outright thuggery–worker suppression, colonial conquest, and so on.

    Now, this does not a prior devalidate capitalism or validate actual ‘laissez-faire’ systems; it is merely to point out that, contrary to many discourses, positive and negative, that cluster around the story of capitalism, capitalism is not, cannot be, a laissez-faire system. It requires, both at its inception(s) and in its continuation, coercive force and the maintenance of rigid hierarchies of power, backed up by a centralized state (though historically the process of state-building and the entrenchment of capitalism often went hand-in-hand). Without the fusing of political power and economic development, capitalism simply would not have, and would not, survive.

    1.  I agree with this.  I always try to illustrate this fact in my US survey.  (FD) Roosevelt was keen to steer a middle course between Hitler and Stalin, and head off any national rebellion during the depression.  But yeah, capitalism and the nation-state are always skipping along, hand in hand, probably making out under a lovely canopy of trees on a beautiful moonlit night.  

        1.  I guess take from my comment what you will?  I just think this was the reality of the situation.  FDR was nothing if not pragmatic, and the situation in the 30s in Europe seemed pretty dire.  Not too few Americans were becoming convinced by either side (fascism or Stalinist communism) during this time.  Both seemed to be DOING SOMETHING about the situation, unlike Hoover (who ironically had led a program to help the Soviets out with a famine in the early 20s, which had given him a reputation as a great humanitarian…).

          1. This is a reply to Lavardera below:

            Um, thanks for putting words in my mouth?  I guess.  I think I have a couple of extra rakes in my garage, though.  I think they are broken.  You’re on your own for torches. 

            Like I said, I was just pointing out what I think was an important historical point.  If you think I’m promoting rebellion, feel free to call the authorities on me.  I hang out with some Muslims too, so make sure you note that when you talk to whoever you call – since you saw something, so now you are saying something….  :-/

          2. I’m just joking around. srry

            mindysan’s response was pretty proportional to the provocation.  I think a more sincere apology would have been appropriate.

      1.  Both Stalin and Roosevelt subscribed to a similar version of capitalism (which does not, mind you, equal similarity in other areas, or at least not similarity of degree), one that emphasized ‘bigness’ and massive industrial development and commitment over everything else, coupled with a strong dependence and valorization of centralized control, multiple layers of management, and lots of ‘experts’- Taylorism, in other words. In Roosevelt’s case, this form of capitalism took a ‘public-private partnership,’ to use the modern euphemism, form, whereas for Stalin, state capitalism in its almost absolute form was the preferred method. In both cases, the actual workers were neutralized, or worse (and I am thinking primarily of Stalin with this ‘worse’- whatever nastiness the US carried out during the period domestically was pretty pale compared to Stalinist state-capitalist repression, all things considered).

        In both cases, while there were some successes- particularly on the part of the USSR, which did, costs be damned, throttle into the industrialized twentieth century- it’s also arguable that neither Roosevelt’s nor Stalin’s capitalism would have long survived had it not been for World War II, which more or less re-set the clock on industrial capitalism, especially in the liberal West. The solidification of post-War liberal capitalism, especially, against the state capitalism of the ‘Communist’ bloc(s), seems to have done more for the long-term survival of capitalist economics and liberal politics than anything else. How long that model will last, who can tell. I have my suspicions, but I’m not an economist or a modern historian- though I do play those things on the internets (I’m a medievalist by trade, for those keeping score).

        One side note though: it’s curious, but not unexpected, that liberals (and here I mean liberal in the conventional, American sense) tend to lend more support, intentionally or not, to capitalism as a system. I think this is because conservatives, while imagining themselves capitalists, tend to be much more suspicious of the government (in some areas of life at least) and centralized planning in general; in addition, capitalism is a deeply anti-conservative affair, overall. It requires expansion, ever increasing aggrandizement, and the demooring of any values or beliefs that would resist both the economic and political incursions of the system. Yet because conservatives believe- erroneously- that capitalism is a laissez-faire system, they suppose it does not need state support and indeed fusion to survive. This is of course madness; without state support, our economy would either collapse or transition into something quite different. Liberals recognize, perhaps simply intuitively, that capitalism requires a strong guiding hand (they like to imagine it as a happy kind guiding hand, which is self-delusion, but…) to survive and thrive. Otherwise…

        1.  Maybe that can be said about Stalin and Roosevelt?  I’m not convinced, though.

          But to your point about capitalism surviving the war, it’s hard to argue a counter-factual.  What happened, happened, and that is what we have to work with historically speaking.  I think it’s better to leave such speculations to sci-fi writers. I’m not meaning that in a negative or dismissive way – I love that kind of speculative fiction as much as the next guy – I just don’t think it’s useful in discussions about historical events.

          Whatever the similarities of Roosevelts and Stalin’s projects (keep in mind that Roosevelt’s programs were not entirely top-down in the same way as Stalin’s programs – after all, the Supreme court put the kabosh on much of the early new deal programs, which led to the court-packing scandal and moderating of the New Deal), I think Roosevelt viewed himself as saving capitalism more than anything else. I doubt he viewed the New Deal as anything fundamentally like Stalin’s project. Isn’t that just buying into the Glenn Beck narrative that the New Deal was an incredibly destructive towards American freedom and is the root of the supposed socialist dystopia full of hedonism we live in today?  He most likely (given the make up of his cabinet, not too few old school progressives) saw himself as preserving capitalism, not mirroring Stalin. Also, keep in mind that brokering a deal between labor and management was part of this, but it was in a very assymetical way – if the 2 groups were partners in the new deal (and in the war effort), then labor was clearly a junior partner, and post-war it put labor in the position of seeing itself not merely as a class, whose rights needed to be protected in the face of certain exploitation, but as part and parcel of the industrialized economy. As such, it was much easier to break the back of labor unions, to the situation that we have today (with a vast minority of American workers not only not part of unions, but actively hostile to unions).

           Nor would I think that Stalin saw himself as creating a project similar to Roosevelt’s. Remember that capitalism was seen as (according to Marx) an historical stage on the way to socialism, which would emerge with the rise of the proletariat. Of course, rhetorically, Stalin saw himself as facilitating that project (although he was just a brutal dictator in the end). Not only that, but the fascist likewise praised the various public works programs, too, especially German.  Maybe the devil is in the details here.  Do the 3 political orientations differ only in degrees or are they fundamentally different in how they dealt with the world wide economic depression? I think that’s a good question we should ask.

          Also, I think the term “liberal” has become completely unmoored from it’s origins, which I think you note by your caveat. Liberals have come to mean “democrats” and conservative has come to mean “republican” in our discourse (and these terms are seen as mutually hostile and incompatible with one another).  The modern democratic party is far more free market than they used to be, especially post-Clinton. The republican party is full of hardlined neo-cons and hard line religious partisans. If the democrats are closer to the center of American political life, then the republicans are way out of the fringe (at least several prominent republicans have argued this  recently). 

          But I think you have some important food for thought in your comment there.

          1. Certainly, Roosevelt and Stalin engaged in quite different projects, though I think the differences had almost as much to do with their nations’ respective degree of industrial development as anything else. Stalin was still faced with a USSR that was not caught up to the West in terms of capital development; it seems that much of his project was to rectify this, absent any concerns about developing the proletariat or whatever. To put it this way: Stalin was building Soviet (state) capitalism, as Roosevelt sought to salvage American capitalism. Roosevelt (or any other single individual or party faction) obviously did not have the same degree of control that, say, Stalin possessed, and he couldn’t just liquidate the opposition (nor, I would like to believe, would he have wanted to). Both, and this is where I see the greatest similarity (and one could bring in lots of other nation-states, both in that period and later, especially in the post-colonial age), had a model of capitalism (by which I mean the concentration of capital in relatively few hands, be they ostensibly public or ostensibly private) that emphasized management, control, and sheer bigness- from public works to industrial glut and so on. Both necessarily entailed the subordination of workers to the owning, managerial class; both, not incidentally, sought, to differing degrees, to camouflage the huge power differentials with ideology, albeit quite different ideologies.

            I think the important thing for talking about the New Deal and this entire period is pointing out the Roosevelt was not engaging in some utopian ‘socialist’ or even necessarily ‘progressive’ project, as both conservatives and liberals like to say (though with wildly different interpretations and valuations- the one demonizes, the other sanctifies). Unfortunately, like so many things in history, the New Deal and the entire inter-war period (to say nothing of WWII itself) has long been basically a matter of myth, for both sides. It’s hard to deconstruct that myth, given the political stakes one incurs regardless of which direction you go in ‘historicizing’ it. 

          2.  Why do so many people fail to capitalize Democrat and Republican when they refer to the American political parties or their members? I’m a democrat but I’m sure not a Democrat.

  2. I would also recommend books by Mexican cartoonist Rius. Marx for beginners is my favorite. He also put together a fantastic catalogue of the history of caricatures/political cartoonists in Mexico.

  3. Economix is a book I’m going to buy and give to people.

    /Raises hand

    Over here, Mark.  Me!  Me!  Me!

  4. This sounds like a good book. I have to wonder about giving Clinton a good grade, though. The economy did pretty well during his time in office, sure, but all that deregulation (repealing Glass-Steagall, signing the Commodity Futures Modernization Act) was devastating in the long term.

  5. Based on the lower two excerpts shown here, the book looks too simplistic to be useful as anything but propaganda.

      1. I guess unless you accurately and objectively describe the situation as it actually happened (cause it’s totally possible to complete recreate all historical situations in a fully accurate and objective way) – COMPLETELY FREE OF SNARK – then it’s propaganda.  Or if you point out that economic policies of some presidents might have possibly caused some people some problems or were maybe the cause of things like deficits , then it propaganda.  Reagan was, after all, the best president ever.  Did you get the memo?

        Sorry.  Too much snark? I’m sure D3 will point out the propaganda in my comment.

        1. You’re right, but I wish it wasn’t so. On serious note, I wish I could buy a book on politics/economics that was 100% agenda-free and 100% snark free. Such things don’t exist of course, but I do think you could have something that was 90% agenda free. It would require an author who worshiped the idea of unbiased journalism with ideological fervor. Because likely someone who has spent years researching something, and has the will power to write a book, likely has an opinion he or she wants to share.

          Another problem: would I recognize a 100% agenda-free book if I saw it? Probably not. Though my quantum mechanics textbook probably comes close.

          1. Though my quantum mechanics textbook probably comes close.

            Nope.  Read some Thomas Kuhn.

            I’ll say this once: There is no such thing as an objective viewpoint.

      2. Look, if it doesn’t say “America is exceptional!!1!” and “Big government is Bad government” and “Taxes are always evil” and “Regulation is strangulation” and “If it’s not explicitly in — then it’s propaganda. That’s just common sense.

      3. Look at it this way:  suppose there’s an “educational” creationist comic which continually portrays Darwin with a malign look on his face, and presented as if his intention was to destroy the self-esteem of  the human race. (There probably is such a comic, I don’t know). Those uncritical folks who tend to feel that way are going to have their beliefs pleasantly reinforced, and may not see it as propaganda.

    1. Please explain why it’s “propaganda”.  What I read there is a mostly accurate summation of policy during Reagan and later Bush/Cheney.  I get the feeling you’re probably not talking about the Adam Smith page.

    2.  With macro economics, if it’s complicated, then it’s likely wrong.  Basically all micro foundations macro is bunk.  The actors, or more commonly actor, doesn’t match real actors in the economy at all.  And the resulting theory usually isn’t powerful enough to model something as simple as a liquidity trap. You can however solve the resulting equations which makes what you’re doing look more like hard science.

      So you are either stuck with Keynes. simple models, and descriptive analysis, or micro foundations and neat tidy analysis that doesn’t describe the real economy very well.

  6. It makes me believe that the problems the United States face won’t be solved until it’s Conservative base successfully knocks out the underpinnings that make it great. For once they do, only then will it sink in they’ve destroyed the foundation of the lofty tower they sit atop.

    1. No, see, destroying the country works for the conservatives, because after they’ve done so,  they just blame the oppostion and get re-elected.

      1. Well, that’s exactly what I’m getting at. The Great Recession wasn’t enough to slow them down, because there was just enough left on the government credit card to avert complete destruction.

        It’s only when they succeed at Great Depression 2 and former financial investors are on the street singing, “Brother, can you spare a dime?” will the depravity their greed (i.e. completely unraveling the social structures of society whilst simultaneously running up the federal credit card to fill the coffers of the wealthy whose taxes are not only zero, but negative) finally sink in.

        It will be the Roaring 20s all over again. But it’s going to be one hell of a hangover when it’s over.

    1. Larry Gonick! (yes he’s mentioned in the article discussion itself – but it bears re-emphasis here) famous for such essential delights as the multi-volume: “The Cartoon History of the Universe” as well as “The Cartoon Guide to [Genetics, Chemistry, Statistics, Physics, Genetics, Sex …]”

  7. I don’t disagree with the progressive bashing of Rand and Atlas Shrugged. And I could see how the 1% could rally behind the sentiment of “get out of our way” and “get rid of the moochers”.

    But the industrialists in Atlas Shrugged were nothing like our 1%. They were depicted as valuing competence and effective workers, right down to the labor in their works. They believed that anybody that was good and competent at their job was incredible valuable to their business. Even the guy who excelled at flipping burgers.

    That’s nothing like our industrialists today that would take any chance to depress wages and benefits, and ship off your job to the third world if they could make more money at it.

    Truth be said, today’s industrialists are more like the Moochers in the book – the Bain Capitals of our world who bleed companies dry, who load them with debt to extract the value for themselves, and leave a trail of destroyed companies and outsourced jobs. The people who with one hand lobby for favor from government, and on the other twist every loophole to stockpile their own wealth. They never had any interest in the core competency of the businesses they exploit, but for knowing their way around a balance sheet.

    I’m pretty sure that these are the types that get shot dead in the end of Atlas Shrugged. It seems like gross cherry picking for their ilk to fly Rand as a philosophy they would endorse, because I think the mobs would gladly line them up once society shatters.

    1.  I’m curious if you are saying that the “wealthy industrialists” of the past were more like Roark as described by Rand? I don’t think it can be argued that folks like Carnegie or Rockerfeller were some sort of great paragons of a moral kind of capitalism. 

      I think her works are utopian fictions for rich people that many people who aren’t part of the 1% also endorse, because they reason, “hey – I work hard, and one day, I too, will be the 1%”. To Rand and her ilk, it’s not just about “moochers” getting out of the way, it’s about government getting out of the way.  Private industry is the primary means of supporting the well-fare of the community in her configuration.  Plus, I think how people like Paul Ryan interpret Rand is just as important, if not more important, than what Rand herself was promoting. Also, her works are just deeply sexist, if you want my opinion on them…  I’m sure you don’t, but there it is.

      Maybe this all goes back to a primary question we should all be struggling with about capitalism itself – is the exploitation that has been part of the rise of the capitalist system (from the centrality of slavery in the world system in the early modern period, to the problems of sweatshops in the modern economy) a defect that needs to only be eliminated (and a perfected capitalism will do this, as it is the highest moral order, as described by Rand and other objectivists) or is it the central defining characteristic of capitalism, and hence the only way forward is the elimination of the capitalist system to be replaced with a more egalitarian system? If we don’t struggle with the problem of exploitation in capitalism, then we’ve missed the point, I think.

      1. No, I’ve not made any reference to industrialists of our past, and I’m not sure where they fit in to the observations I was making. I would say that they were certainly more competent in their industries than today’s aggressive capitalists – for them the industry matters much less than the books.

        And I was not saying “moochers” get out of our way. Rand was clearly saying “get out of the industrialists way”, as well as “stop mooching from the  strong industrialists”.

        I’m not saying anything about sexism in the book. Your comments are strangely off what I wrote above, perhaps you should re-read.

        Look, I am not endorsing Rand, no love, no desire to defend her philosophy.

        I am simply sharing an observation that the conservatives today that endorse Rand’s views are more like the Moochers in her story, than they are like the heros. I find it ironic. 

        1. I was just curious about whether you argued about past industrialists… wasn’t trying to say you were arguing that, was just curious.

           I’m not sure I agree entirely with you, but I think your point is clearer now so thanks.

          For my part, I think she was making something of a “calvinist” argument, without the religious component – that successfully capitalists made their way on their own merits  and material success was evidence of that. It seems to me that she also equated material success with moral uprightness – self-centeredness was at the forefront of her thought and so was a certain kind of economic determinism.  I think she was enamored of that kind of success and found government intervention abhorrent and amoral, especially where it reigned in market forces, which she thought were somehow natural forces (I’m unsure whether she’d be for or against the kind of intervention we’ve seen in recent years – bailing out banks and the auto industry, for example – thoughts on how you think she’d feel about that?). It might be grounded in her experiences in the Russian revolution.

          I don’t know whether she’d find today’s crop of Rand acolytes moochers or not. Characters like Roark are so thin and ideologically crafted, that I’m not sure they can be compared to actually human beings.  I think she did argue that people are always the masters of their own destiny, and if you are poor or you fail, it’s your own fault and has nothing to do with the free market system, which she worshipped as a kind of god. She had a very social darwinist view of class and social relations… Hence, maybe she’d argue that, for example, Bain’s buying up and dismantling corporations was perfectly acceptable means of conducing business.  I’m not conversant enough in her work to be able to tell you that one way or another.

          I think she was sexist, which I was just adding it to the conversation because I think it’s illustrative of her thought processes and part of her world-view. But point taken, it is off topic.  My apologies. 

          1. Funny, yes, I agree with you, but not on some of your specific points. For instance, I don’t think her heros were wrapped up in material success the way you imply. They tended to be completely absorbed in their work, and seemed to care less about the luxuries that success could buy. However those close to them who were not the idealized heros were often wrapped up in that aspect of their success. So I don’t see that connection to material success, which reinforces what I think is a difference between her heroes and our 1%. Again, the moochers were more likely to be wrapped up in material success. 

            I think the idea of moochers in her world was much broader than what our conservative fans of Rand might admit. It was not only the welfare class that were considered moochers, but also the lobbiers of the government, as well s the government officials themselves. There were other industrialists that petitioned the government to “level the playing field”, who could not compete unless the government intervened. Our world is somewhat different, but I see little difference in lobbying government for policies that restrict your competition, and lobbying government for lower taxes on your industry…

            Again I think our Capitalists are more like Rand’s moochers than Rand’s industrialists. 

            And Roarke was a character in the Fountainhead. Different story, and different ego.

    2. Yup – Marx and Rand basically identified the same problem (though they proposed rather different solutions to it) – a small clique of corrupt people with an overabundance of power using this power to extract far more value than they create (and occasionally throwing some scraps from their table to keep people pacified).

      Come to think of it, their solutions failed for the same reasons as well – power quickly mutates heroes into ‘moochers’, regardless of what principles they were heroic by.

    3. The problem with the Randian ideal is that her protagonists were all about as realistic as Superman on Spiderman. 

      Sure they worked themselves up from their bootstraps…by inventing a completely new form of metal that was a hundred times better than anything else.  Or building homes that were too good for anybody but the ultra-rich. 

      If you are a joe six pack, maybe a B student with a college degree and a reasonable job, well you just don’t exist in her books.  Ultimately the problem  is that only exceptional people get ahead, but you can’t have exceptional people unless the majority of everybody is not exceptional.  The whole book is basically a F-U to the majority of people. 

      The worst part is that in the real world, being successful takes more than hard work and dedication.  It also takes timing, luck, and no small amount of support from parents, teachers, government, and so on.  Look at someone like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  Both were born to wealthy parents and had early access to computers.  Both were born about the same time, both were dedicated and brilliant individuals.  A loss of any one of those factors would have prevented Apple or Microsoft from existing.  Indeed it has undoubtedly happened countless times already that someone had just 3 or 4 of the criteria (maybe their only crime is being born a couple of years too early and ending up as a wage slave in IBM with kids and a mortgage right as the revolution happened) and did not excel. 

      1. Well, yes and no. I agree with some of what you are saying, but you are generalizing too much.

        I agree the heros are unrealistic, but they are not super heros. 

        Before Hank Rearden invented the super metal you mention, he was successful because he ran his steel foundry better than his competition. There is no science to back that up, but it was not super powers either.

        And similarly, all through the story the hero characters interact with key employees, who are very competent at their jobs, and to whom the heros count on to make their businesses run well. And those people manage workers, some who are good, some who are lousy. But its hardly an FU to the majority of people. If anything its appreciative to employees that get their companies mission and are good at helping them get there.

        And the architect Howard Roark from that other story, he designed low income housing, and a development of modest houses in the course of that story. It certainly was not all about houses and skyscrapers for the rich folks. Admittedly that’s what most architects work is about, because few others are willing to pay for an architect. But in this story the architect was clearly willing an able to deliver his form of good design to any situation. 

        But you are right, its fiction, and the characters are certainly fictional. They are absurdly competent and there is no effort to account for that. But its a story in service of a philosophy, and not so much in service of entertainment.

  8. Nice review, I will have to check it out.  As to the section on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, one thing that should be remembered is that the book is called wealth of nations because it explore how a nation creates and uses its wealth.  Nations are an interesting idea. The fact that a group of people get together and call their group a nation and then start telling other people how they must now give them some of their money for their own protection.  Nations of every stripe are organized by the wealthy to secure their wealth and to enshrine their power.  So when Adam Smith was writing this book, it should be remembered that it wasn’t called Wealth of Individuals or even How Wealth is Created.  It was specifically about how a nation can best promote a system that generates the most possible wealth for the nation. That wealth isn’t created by a nation, it is extracted from the people who live in that nation.  Some would argue that a nation creates the environment that can encourage or discourage wealth by the kinds of laws it enacts.  This is assuredly true, however when Adam Smith wrote his warnings about how the free market could be exploited by the rich and could provide for all the functions of government, he was betraying his own root assumption that nations are necessary to create wealth.

    Wealth is created where ever humans have the freedom to creatively trade with each other for their mutual benefit.  Nations exist where ever there are humans who wish to use the power of coercion to impose their will on others. No matter the intention, once the use of force becomes an accepted way for the nation to exert control over its citizens then there is no reason not to demand a portion of the wealth created by those citizens.  For the good of the nation of coarse.

    By the way, I agree with not recommending Atlas Shrugged but not for the same reason. Its just a bad read and the characters are boring and one dimensional. Plus it doesn’t give a very realistic picture of economics.  The whole  plot is altogether unlikely, but even if all the wealthy people left America to go to Galt’s Gulch, that would just leave those markets open to other innovators that would still be willing to deal with government beurocracy. Its not like the country would grind to a halt. In fact, if anything Ayn Rand makes the classic mistake believing that the wealthy drive the economy, they don’t.  At least not the super wealthy, its the marginally rich that own the small businesses that create employment and provide needed products and services to the masses, not people like Warren Buffet or George Soros.

    A better book on economics from a libertarian (anarchist?) perspective is The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman (Milton’s son) which explores some of the way that the free market could replace those functions of government that Adam Smith believed couldn’t be replaced by the market. 

    1. A key critique of why Atlas Shrugged is Rich People porn that most people don’t bother to point out. Thanks for that. 

      It’s not just that Galt is the archetype for a modern Libertarian in his distain for “moochers” therefore justified in whatever he chooses to do, but more that Rand never addresses the idea of  who the significant producers are. A small local plumbing company does more for keeping the economy going than Bain Capital. Concentrating wealth to the point where it can no longer circulate is simply a form of parasitic self destruction. While Galt is not exactly a capitalist war lord like the current crop of our financial masters of the universe, he is a model they use for self justification. 

  9. It figures that a socialists would use a comicbook to get his sick propaganda out.

    A comicbook is about as heavy reading as the socialist’s brain can handle.
    Look at Europe. Socialism has bankrupted them to the brink of disaster!
    No, change to over the brink of disaster.Socialism is just a way of stealing money from taxpayers to buy votes so the politicians can push through their agendas that they couldn’t do otherwise.
    How can anybody with two brain cells not see socialism is a complete failure!!
    You could make the argument back in the 1950s or earlier that we should give socialism a try.But the experiment has been done and it didn’t work.I minored in  economics and have read all the theories and socialism looks good on paper, but it doesn’t stand up to reality.

    1.  Um…. have you ever seen a copy of the Grundiss?  Or Das Kapital? Or tried reading them instead of just assuming what your economics textbook said about them was accurate? For that matter have you read any Gramsci? Hardt and Negiri? Zizek? You might disagree with Marx and those who write in his vein, but those books are not a “light read” by any stretch of the imagination. It’s tough stuff. But for that matter, so is Adam Smith, Hegel, Foucault, and Derrida.  It’s a big difference reading the original works and coming to terms with it and reading others interpretation of those works and coming to terms with that.  Reading Marx is not going to turn you into a Marxist, so you really should make an effort to be conversant in this work that pisses you off so much, if only so you can refute him.  We do ourselves a major disservice by not engaging with the works we disagree with and trying to see why we disagree with them.  Anyone who is a student of history, economics, or the like should have a good foundation in these works, whether they agree with “socialism” or not. Because they had a major impact on the world and shaped the 20th century, for good or ill.

      And how is our economy doing, vis-a-vis the EU? As a capitalist economy, we should be zooming right along, no?

      I also don’t think that “socialism” is the EUs problem. 

      And is this comic really “socialist”?

      Wait… are you joking?  I can’t tell anymore.

    2. Try to find a better source of definitions for a term like “socialist” than Fox News, or the “Think” Tanks that feed it it’s daily dose of propaganda talking points. The Scandinavians are highly socialist and doing well by most standards while many of the Mediterranean states socialism is causing them to tank (Greece, Spain). Maybe it’s not the government ownership/regulation of areas of goods and services, but who the government allows itself to be exploited by. 

      Special interest groups controlling and exploiting the government is more telling about why they are tanking, then the ‘ism supposedly in charge. 

    3. It’s like Poe’s law for economics.  I seriously cannot tell whether this is a parody or for real.

      How can anybody with two brain cells not see socialism is a complete failure!!

      How can anyone with two brain cells not see laissez-faire capitalism (or as close as anyone has ever gotten) was a complete failure?  You’d have be completely ignorant of history.

      But then, folks like Steve usually are.

    4. Look at Europe. Socialism has bankrupted them to the brink of disaster!

      Hate to break it to you, but Greece and Spain are not typical of “Europe”, and a number of other quite “socialistic” countries are doing quite well, as mentioned by economist Edmund Phelps in this discussion:

      People see the fix that Greece is in as a moral parable that is a warning to the rest of the West. But the parable has flaws or mistakes in it. It’s far too crude to lay the crisis in Greece on an over-large welfare state, or on pandering after the votes of public employees. Germany, Holland, and Sweden have the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, despite huge welfare programs and well-paid civil servants, too. They’re saved by their horror of under-taxation.

      Also see the various graphs in this article for a comparison between the USA and various European countries on issues like social mobility (how much your income is determined by the income of your parents), crime, mental illness, and life expectancy vs. spending per person on health care…to summarize, the US does pretty badly in comparison with most European countries on all these issues.

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