Engineers are trained to build models that work, and Johnson continues in this vein by testing established economic principles with his own examples and hypotheticals, followed by showing his work and revealing the reasons behind his presented solutions. In one example, he determines that short-term treasury debt is the optimal mode for banks’ repurchase agreements. Johnson’s prose is often straightforward—a just-the-facts presentation only occasionally leavened by humor—though he does amusingly use the root word “corpus” to compare corporations to zombies and draws some economic conclusions from the board game Settlers of Catan. Energetic, cartoonlike illustrations by Cormac Power add interest, too, beginning each chapter with depictions of such things as Blind Justice weighing Medusa’s detached head, helicopters dropping cash, and Darth Vader.
Johnson spares few words in his considerations of centralized versus decentralized economic management (he suggests a balance) and the fascinating role that faith plays in economies. His approach offers readers little hand-holding: he introduces a topic, analyzes it in the space of a few lines or with some math, and then presents his conclusions before moving on. This book is less a primer than it is an extended, sometimes dazzling proof, making the persuasive case that our economy could do more for us all while simultaneously warning against excessive centralization.
Takeaway: An engineer argues that economies can serve their participants better in this dense introduction to economics.
Great for fans of: Roger E. A. Farmer’s How the Economy Works, Niall M. Fraser and Elizabeth M. Jewkes’s Engineering Economics: Financial Decision Making For Engineers.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: B+