If you've ever wondered about how to save for retirement, how Social Security is funded or exactly what the Federal Reserve Bank does, a new book by a University of Delaware economics professor can help you learn those things as quickly as you can say "Cinderella."
Economics Parables and Policies, by Larry Seidman, uses whimsical settings and parables to inform the reader about complicated economic principles.
Published by M.E. Sharpe, the book of lighthearted and fanciful econo-tales is written for for adults who might not normally read a book by an economist.
"The basic premise of this book is that learning economics can be fun. It's a book for the night table, not the study desk," Seidman says.
"Written for the intelligent layman, the book has no graphs, diagrams or math. It is for anybody who realizes the importance of the subject of economics, and who wants to read about it in a fun way. That's what I have tried to get across," he says.
The book begins with Adam and Eve to teach the reader about the "genesis" of economics. "In the beginning Adam and Eve had no tools," it reads.
Other characters in the book include the Earnest family, the Bully family, an extraterrestrial named XT and Sen. Myopia, all designed to teach the reader economics in a humorous way.
Seidman says the book grew out of an article he wrote in the late '80s that detailed a food crisis in the land of "Aroma." The tone of that article inspired a book on economics written in parables. The concepts from the article are incorporated into a chapter called "Health Card" which uses the old proverb, "There's no such thing as a free lunch" to illustrate health-care issues.
A reviewer in The Swathmorean wrote, "This is an excellent and easy to read book about the economic impact of the decisions of daily life. It rarely oversimplifies and leaves most moral decisions to the reader, using economics to clarify the question."
Nobel laureate and economist Robert Solow wrote, "Prof. Seidman explains simply and clearly, and his parables are fun to read."
Seidman, who has been at UD for 16 years, teaches classes in public finance and economic issues and policies. He is currently working on another book, called Funded Social Security.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve had no tools. To compensate, God saw to it that the weather and soil never failed them. Initially, Adam and Eve devoted all their working time to growing food. With their bare hands, they plowed, planted and harvested. Each year, they consumed all the food they produced, and each year, production and consumption remained the same. For all we know, Adam and Eve were very happy.
But one night, Adam had a dream. With an imagination that leaped centuries, Adam dreamed of a tractor. In the dream, Adam saw their ability to plow, plant and harvest multiply.
"If only we had a tractor." The thought haunted Adam and Eve for weeks as they continued to farm with their bare hands. Naturally, they prayed daily to God to give them a tractor. But to no avail.
One day, Adam and Eve were walking in the garden.
"So you want a tractor?" spoke a voice. And they knew the voice was God's.
"Yes," they replied, trembling. And God answered, "Do you expect a tractor to fall from the sky like manna from Heaven?"
And Adam and Eve whispered, "That's exactly what we were hoping."
Then God laughed, and in a kind voice said, "No, my children, it is time for you to eat from the tree of economic knowledge. I will not give you a tractor. You must make your own tractor, by the sweat of your brow."
"That's just what we were afraid of," said Adam and Eve. Then God burned detailed instructions- "How to Make a Tractor"-onto a tablet of stone that lay at the foot of the tree of economic knowledge. As they sat under the tree, eating its fruit and reading the instructions, Adam and Even suddenly realized a fundamental truth of the human condition. They realized that, while making a tractor, they must devote less time to plowing, planting and harvesting food. In the short run, they must reduce their consumption of food.
"We face a trade-off," said Eve suddenly. "We must sacrifice consumption in the present, while we build the tractor, in order to enjoy more consumption in the future."
"Isn't there any way around this?" asked Adam gloomily.
"I'm afraid not," said Eve, who may have been the second person, but was clearly the first economist. "No sacrifice, no rise in the standard of living. It's that simple, honey."