Book Cover: Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Volume One

Button: Buy from Amazon

Ask your local bookstore for my new book (co-authored with Grady Klein), or you can order it for just $12 from Amazon.com or B&N. (PS to buyers and bloggers: Please use the links above: at no extra cost to you, a few more pennies go to me instead of Jeff Bezos.)

Update: Volume Two: Macroeconomics came out in Jan 2012!

Scroll down for excerpts, reviews, corrections, and information for teachers, including page notes and PPTs! Go to my foreign translations page for more info if you want to read this book in Chinese (both simplified for mainland China and traditional for Taiwan), French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Thai, or Vietnamese!

Comedy/book tour

Details about upcoming shows here, please contact me to bring economics comedy to your school, corporate event, or comedy club! If you are with a public high school, community college, or the armed forces, or are otherwise looking for a free show, click here.

Excerpts

Here’s a PDF download of a chapter (plus the front and back covers and Table of Contents). Or you can just download the front and back covers and Table of Contents.

Reviews

From the back cover of the book:

  • “Learning economics should be fun. Klein and Bauman make sure that it is.” —N. Gregory Mankiw, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, and author of Principles of Economics
  • “Hilarity and economics are not often found together, but this book has a lot of both. It also does a great job of explaining important economic concepts simply, accurately, and entertainingly—quite a feat.” —Eric Maskin, Nobel Laureate in Economics
  • “Bauman and Klein present solid basic economics in a brilliant cartoon wrapper. The authors successfully shine a happy light on the dismal science.” —Hugo Sonnenschein, Distinguished Service Professor and President Emeritus, University of Chicago
  • “This is a seriously funny book! Klein and Bauman offer an enlightening and entertaining look at why our day-to-day choices matter and how they all combine. Students will find this a great addition to their textbooks, and critics of the discipline will learn what economics is really about.” —Diane Coyle, author of The Soulful Science
  • “Had Art Spiegelman and John Maynard Keynes collaborated on a comic book on economics, they could only have dreamed of coming up with something this good.” —Jonathan A. Shayne, a.k.a. Merle Hazard, country singer and founder of Shayne & Co., LLC

Reviews on the web (I’ll add more as they cross my desk) include kind words from Univ of Chicago econ department chair Harald Uhlig (who writes on Amazon that “This is a wonderful and humorous introduction to microeconomics!”),Tim Harford (“For anybody who is genuinely interested in economics, who really wants to learn the jargon, or anyone who is starting out studying an economics course, this is just a brilliant source. It really is rigorous, but it’s also a lot of fun to read.”), Tony Cookson (“my favorite Christmas gift this year”), more from Greg Mankiw (“a painless way to learn economics”), kind words from marginalrevolution’s Tyler Cowen (“the next step in economics education”), a nice review in the Boston Globe (“uproariously funny, practical, and relevant”), another nice review in the Boston Globe (“a warp-speed, entertaining and enlightening journey through the basics”), and a mostly critical review from Bryan Caplan (with responses here and here, including my final 2 cents in the comments section).

Corrections

  • Steve Pratt (a self-described “Father, Husband, Fisherman, Churchgoer, and Economist” from Anchorage, Alaska) writes that there’s a mistake on page 13 (“The metaphor of the invisible hand was coined by Adam Smith in 1776…”) because Adam Smith first mentioned the Invisible Hand in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which dates from 1759. This is absolutely correct, at least if Wikipedia is to be believed.
  • On page 20 (and again on page 161), the material on the chalkboard should address the possibility (in terms of mathematics if not reality!) that optimal output occurs with an infinitely high value of output q, for example if revenue is 3q and costs are 2q. So the text should be corrected to say something like “either q=0 or q=∞ or the firm…” or maybe even better as “either q=0 or q→∞ or the firm…”
  • The annuity formula on p34 is not wrong, but it would be easier and clearer without the compound fraction, i.e., as (x/r)*etc. If I get a chance to change it in a 2nd edition I will!

Information for teachers

If you ‘re a college or high school instructor looking to adopt the cartoon book(s) for a class and you don’t want to shell out $12 you can click here to get a desk copy (free if you order 20 copies) or an examination copy (just $3 per book :). Send a note on school letterhead to the address in the link and ask for a copy of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Volume One: Microeconomics, ISBN 978-0809094813 and/or The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Volume Two: Macroeconomics, ISBN 978-0809033614.

Also FYI both cartoon books should be available at a steep discount (possibly even free!) as part of a Worth Publishers package deal with intro texts by Krugman/Wells, Cowen/Tabbarok, or Chiang. For more info contact WorthEconomics@worthpub.com, and if you have any trouble please contact me.

Detailed page notes (and haiku summaries!) are available here, see the sample chapter below. For information about PPTs for use in class, please email me using your school email address.

Sample page notes for Chapter 1: Introduction (pages 3-14)

Summary in haiku form

Individuals,
Each doing what’s best for them.
Is that good for all?

Summary in one paragraph

Economics is about the actions and interactions of optimizing individuals. These individuals are simply trying to satisfy their own preferences—they are not just selfish jerks, and economics is not just about money—and the Big Question in economics is about what a world full of optimizing individuals looks like. Sometimes that world looks heavenly: individual self-interest leads to good outcomes for the group as a whole, as expressed in the metaphor of the Invisible Hand. But sometimes individual self-interest leads to bad outcomes for the group as a whole, as in the case of traffic congestion or other instances of the Tragedy of the Commons. We’ll see plenty of examples in the chapters ahead as we build up from individual optimization (decision theory) to strategic interactions between individuals (game theory) and finally to market interactions between many individuals (price theory).

Notes on specific pages

Page 4, “The only reason I don’t sell my children is that I think they’ll be worth more later”: Here’s a compendium of similar “you might be an economist if…” jokes.

Page 4, “The main assumption in economics is that every single person is an optimizing individual”: It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this assumption. If individuals are optimizing, for example, we can abolish Social Security because rational individuals will save for their own retirement. Few people are willing to push the idea of optimizing individuals to this sort of logical extreme: even many “libertarians” want to privatize Social Security, not abolish it; but the alternative to the idea of optimizing individuals (that people are not optimizing individuals and that other people—in the guise of the government—know what’s best for them) is not all that appealing either. This choice between the frying pan and the fire creates one of the central tensions in economics.

Page 9, Macroeconomics versus microeconomics: The “9 out of 5” line is adapted from Paul Samuelson, who in 1966 wrote that “Wall Street indexes predicted nine out of the last five recessions!” Samuelson won the 1970 Nobel Prize “for the scientific work through which he has developed static and dynamic economic theory and actively contributed to raising the level of analysis in economic science”. The “wrong about specific things” line from PJ O’Rourke is adapted from his book Eat the rich: A treatise on economics (1999).

Page 11, The tragedy of the commons: It’s better to wait on this until we return to the topic in Chapter 8, but “The tragedy of the commons” (easier to read in PDF) refers to a 1968 article in Science by Garrett Hardin.

Page 12, “I, Pencil”:I, Pencil” is a must-read fairy tale by Leonard Read about the miracle of the invisible hand. Originally published in The Freeman in 1958, the work is often mis-attributed to Milton Friedman, who retold the story in Free to Choose and wrote the afterward in this 50th-anniversary PDF of “I, Pencil”. (Friedman won the 1976 Nobel Prize “for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy.”) A good compare-and-contrast article with “I, Pencil” is “Health care that works” by Nicholas Kristof (NYT 9/2/09). Note that they both talk about the postal service!

Page 12, Hot dogs: See interesting articles like “Ovens on Feet Beckon Germans to Bratwurst”, “The Half-Million-Dollar Wiener”, “A Prominent Collection at the Met: Food Carts”, and “Dispute at the Met Escalates as the Police Ticket Seven Food Vendors”.

Page 13, The invisible hand: Adam Smith was a Scottish philosopher and “the father of modern economics”. The metaphor of the “invisible hand” comes from The Wealth of Nations, first published in 1776. (You can still buy it today, and though not always a page-turner it’s remarkably readable.)

Page notes for other chapters are here.