Can a Comic Book Make Economics—the “Dismal Science”—Fun, and Understandable?
“It’s the economy, stupid!” James Carville crowed throughout the 1992 presidential election, and has pretty much continued crowing since. What do you do when you know it’s the economy that matters, but you’re feeling stupid about how it all works? Do you plunge headfirst into Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations? Do you blow the dust off your college macroeconomics textbook that you couldn’t stand reading even for a grade? Author Michael Goodwin feels your pain, because he found himself in the same predicament—a voting American citizen faced with the truth that he didn’t know anything about the policies he was voting for. Fortunately, Goodwin had done the legwork of untangling the web of economic knowledge for us. Even better, with the help of illustrator Dan E. Burr, Goodwin delivers that knowledge in the accessible format of the graphic novel. Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures eliminates feelings of stupidity in the face of economic-speak while demonstrating how it really is the economy and why nobody should be stupid about it.
“Everyone has questions about the economy,” Goodwin begins his explanatory preface, with his soon to be very familiar face among the questioning crowd. Goodwin hits the books and goes back to the original sources of economic thought—Smith, Ricardo, Keynes, Marx, and friends. As a big picture began to take shape in his mind, Goodwin realized that “while the whole picture was complicated, no one part of it was all that hard to understand.” Hoping to make those pieces as understandable as possible, Goodwin chose the “most accessible form I knew: comics.” Some may dismiss the format as kids’ stuff, but the realities inside Economix and the purpose behind it are for the real grownups. “We’re citizens of a democracy,” Goodwin explains. “Most of the issues we vote on come down to economics. It’s our responsibility to understand what we’re voting about.” Fortunately, you’ll may never accept democracy’s responsibility in as fun a way as Economix allows.
Goodwin arranges the book in a roughly chronological way, skipping forward or backwards in time only when necessary to make important connections. The geographic focus centers on the United States, because Goodwin’s an American and that’s his main concern, but Economix spans the globe and travels to Europe, Russia, Asia, India, and elsewhere, especially after technological advances make the world smaller and more interdependent. Burr’s illustrations make what Thomas Carlyle called “the dismal science” after Malthus’ grim economic prognosis not just as visually clear as Goodwin’s prose, but also good fun. You’ll never think of taxation or “bracket creep” the same way after watching Burr’s embodiment prance across the page.
Goodwin writes in a clear, vibrant style. He gives you not just the basics, but also the forgotten or misremembered bits of economic history that muddle it for so many of us. For example, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” appears, but Goodwin also highlights Smith’s “big forgotten message”: “Beware of capitalists!” David Ricardo emerges as “possibly the most important person nobody’s ever heard of” thanks to his fathering of classical political economy—the seemingly parallel universe in which economists build abstract economies that bear little to no resemblance to real world finances. (Burr helpfully places these economists in academic gowns and hats [as shown above] to remind you of these economists’ theoretical, ivory tower approach.) Reagan- olatry takes a beating as Goodwin tears down the two central myths of Reaganomics (small government and lower taxes) in his characteristic logical, crystal clear, and unapologetic way.
Goodwin wears his ideologically biased heart on his sleeve. The bent throughout Economix is liberal, but reality, Goodwin would agree, has a well-known liberal bias. A cartoon Goodwin guides you through the ages all the way up to today, so the human element never disappears in a sea of abstractions and cold calculations. “Economics isn’t chemistry—it deals with the infinite complexity of human behavior, not with rigid laws,” Goodwin responds to his critics. All books on economics contain bias. Some hide it better than others. Goodwin embraces his. Not only does he embrace it, he challenges you to fact check it. In addition to nearly 300 pages of illustrated, opinionated economics, Economix comes with a glossary, guide for further reading, and index (rare exotic animals for a graphic novel) as well as full references and notes online for the most rabid of naysayers.
You’ll come away from Economix with a slew of newly understood concepts, from mixed economy to stagflation, but the most important thing you’ll come away with is a newfound confidence in your ability to understand how the economic world works for and often against us. After Economix, you’ll be able to delve into writings by Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, or other current economists trying to make sense of today’s world. Before the chapter titled “Things Fall Apart,” Goodwin quotes John Maynard Keynes saying in 1930 that “We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand.” Just when the world seems to have fallen apart thanks to the economy, Goodwin and Burr’s Economix comes along to give us some understanding of the immense, yet still “delicate machine” that controls our world so that we can be the rulers with our votes and not the uninformed (or disinformed) ruled.
[Many thanks to Abrams Comic Arts for providing me with the image above from and a review copy of Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures, written by Michael Goodwin and illustrated by Dan E. Burr.]
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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