24 November 2023

Understanding Economics: A Work of Science Fiction

Dan Hicks
2022, Daniel Hicks, 256 pages,
ISBN 9780645667219

Reviewer: Leath Al Obaidi

“Understanding Economics: A Work of Science Fiction” by Dan Hicks is an accessible and thought-provoking book that makes economics relatable for a broader audience. By merging the worlds of economics and science fiction, Hicks achieves writing a text that is both enlightening and genuinely enjoyable to read.

Hicks utilises popular culture references, from Dr. Spock and Darth Vader to Frankenstein and Asimov’s Robot Series, to explore complex economic concepts. These well-chosen illustrations serve as vehicles for conveying the intricacies of topics like faith in institutions, the balancing act between chaos and control in economic systems, and the underlying ‘fight or flight’ nature of our economic decisions. This makes the book particularly valuable for those who may find traditional economics literature inaccessible or overly academic.

The book also shines in its humane approach to economics. Themes such as “The Fight” and “Faith” add a psychological and sociological dimension that is sometimes overlooked in economics books. In doing so, Hicks makes the subject more relatable, reminding us that economic systems are, ultimately, a product of human behaviours, desires, and limitations. This recognition of humanity’s central role in economics lends the book a new approach with new depth and richness.

Hicks is self-aware about the limitations inherent in understanding economics. The book acknowledges that even the most sophisticated models can’t capture the full complexity of real-world economics, a refreshing stance in a field often accused of overconfidence. It also prompts the reader to consider the ‘default settings’—the cultural, physical, and political constraints—that shape our economic interactions.

While the text is richly layered, it retains a level of simplicity and clarity in its explanations, making it an excellent introductory read. Moreover, the book successfully challenges readers to think critically about their role in the economy, making it a valuable resource for nascent students of economics, but also for anyone without a background in economics who is interested in understanding the world around themself better.

In summary, “Understanding Economics: A Work of Science Fiction” is an engaging read. It presents a nuanced yet accessible view of economics, enriched by a human-centric approach and a keen understanding of the subject’s complexities and limitations. Though it may not serve as a comprehensive guide for academic or professional economists, it is a highly effective introduction for newcomers.