December 11th, 2012

Spotlight: Michael Goodwin, Economix Author and LAMP Supporter

Author Michael Goodwin

Michael Goodwin is the author of Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work) In Words and Pictures, a graphic novel explaining in plain English what everyone should know about how our economy works (hint: does not include cliffs). Recently released this fall, the book has been a huge hit–and it can be yours when you donate at least $35 to The LAMP by December 18, thanks to Mike and Abrams Books!  Author Joel Bakan says, “Goodwin has done the seemingly impossible–he has made economics comprehensible and funny,” and Wired.com’s James Floyd Kelly says, “I just cannot stress how amazing this book is!” Read on for more about how the book came to be a graphic novel, why everyone needs to understand economics and the links between money and media.

Economix has been getting a lot of attention–it made the New York Times Top 10 list for best-selling graphic novels, and got great praise from economists and other reviewers. That’s really impressive for any book, but particularly for one tackling a topic as complex and dry as economics. Has the reception surprised you, and why do you think it’s doing so well?

I’m very pleasantly surprised. I really had no idea what to expect, and I’d mentally prepared myself for the book to fall between the cracks (it really is an odd beast). But people have really responded. I think that’s because the economy is fascinating–we live in it, after all–but economics isn’t an appropriate tool for most of us to understand it; the way it’s usually taught relies on abstractions, math, and geometry that drive most people away. Worse, economics, especially at the introductory levels, is surprisingly limited; it studiously avoids many of the questions that matter. So there really wasn’t a way for laypeople to learn about the things that interest us–how we got where we are, where we’re headed, and what we can do about it.

In the beginning of your book, you express a sincere concern that most people don’t know or understand the history of economics. Can you tell us more about when this started to bother you, and why you think it’s so important for people to learn about how the economy works?

It’s bothered me since the Reagan administration; that’s when I was old enough to see that our politicians were just making stuff up and expecting us to believe it. And almost all political issues come down to economic issues. If we don’t understand them, our politicians will keep selling us absurdities–like the idea that tax cuts for the rich somehow help the poor–and we’ll keep believing them.
And our opinions do matter. Consider Mitt Romney–when he was governor of Massachusetts he was reasonably centrist; when he was candidate for President he went hard to the right, because the country as a whole is much farther right than Massachusetts. So if the voters educate themselves, our politicians will follow–after all, it’s not like they have principles to stick to.

Why did you choose the graphic novel medium to tell this story?

First off, the subject is intimidating, but nobody’s going to be intimidated by a comic book. So I figured it could reach people who wouldn’t normally even take an econ book off the shelf.>/div>

Second, using comics made me stick to essentials; if this book had been plain text I don’t think I could have resisted the temptation to go into detail about all the cool facts I’d come across. And then it would have been just another thick book on the economy for people to not read. But with a comic you only have so much real estate on each page to work with.And finally, information that’s presented in comics is just plain more memorable.

What was it like collaborating with the artist to tell the visual story to accompany your script?

I would give Dan Burr, the artist, the text and a description of what should happen in each panel and he would send pictures back to me. They were almost always just what I had imagined, or better; Dan really got what I was going for in terms of tone, detail, and style.

There are a few parts in the book where you mention the role that media have played in American economic development, and it seems implied that the impact is not often positive. What would you like to see change in the relationship of media to economics, and how do you think it can be accomplished?

One fundamental problem is the media’s idea of “objectivity,” where you report what one side says and then what the other side says and then you’re done, even if one side is spewing total hooey. That’s allowed absurdities to rule our political discourse. Real objectivity means that when someone lies, you report that as a lie.
A related problem is the reliance on the same old stable of professional pundits and journalists, no matter how many conflicts of interest they have or how many times they’re just plain wrong. Seriously, some people have been consistently wrong for thirty years and they haven’t gone away. Even the ones who try to do a responsible job are largely multimillionaires, whose friends all have good jobs, and they’re not going to understand the world in the same way most of us do.
Fortunately, as I mention in Economix, technology is changing this, fast. With the internet and social media, people have been able to talk to each other rather than be talked at by traditional media. That’s a huge change. There’s a great quote in a 1956 book called The Power Elite, by C. Wright Mills, which is worth quoting at length:

In a public, as we may understand the term, (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them. (2) Public communications are so organized that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against—if necessary—the prevailing system of authority. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operations.

At the opposite extreme, in a mass, (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them. . . . (2) The communications that prevail are so organized that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (3) the realization of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organize and control the channels of such action. . .

When Mills was writing, the public was becoming a mass. Now the mass is becoming a public again. We’re still working on the “effective action” part, but at least we’re able to form our own opinions more than we were twenty or even five years ago.

What are you working on next?

There will be another book, but for right now I’m just enjoying the fact that this one is done.

Click here to get Economix when you donate at least $35 to The LAMP by December 18!

Post a Comment

Grassroots.org
Creative Commons License