Economics in One More Lesson

Dave Barry’s Money Secrets: Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar? Hardcover $24.95 272 pages Crown Publishers

A.D. 2006 is here, and many of us are already wrestling with our grandiose plans to lose weight, get organized, and better manage our finances. The first two items are beyond the scope of this article, but there is good news on the financial front: A new book, Dave Barry’s Money Secrets, is hitting the shelves or virtual shelves of a bookstore or website near you.

You may remember Mr. Barry from his long-running Miami Herald column and the many humor books he has written over the years. The guy even co-authored a sequel to Peter Pan. Now that takes some chutzpah. But what qualifies him to dispense “expert” financial advice? Why should you trust him on the important matter of your economic health? I’ll let Mr. Barry speak for himself:

If you follow the advice in this book, and you somehow fail to become wealthy, simply take this book back to the bookstore where you bought it, explain to the employees what happened, and ask for a full refund. You have my personal guarantee, right here in writing, that they will laugh until they blow snot into their lattes.

If that’s not enough, maybe the fact that the book is chock-full of other useful information will convince you that you need to buy it now. With chapters on “Providing for Medical Care (You’ll Need Some Leeches),” “Starting Your Own Business (Harness the Awesome Power of Human Stupidity),” and “Income Taxes: Building Blocks of Our Great Nation and Lifeblood of Our Sacred Democratic Way of Life (How to Avoid Paying Them),” Mr. Barry offers valuable knowledge that us average, middle-class Joes and Josephines can put to use as we navigate the chaos of the modern global economy. Failing that, we can blow snot into our lattes from laughing so hard at his book.

At any rate, it’s no secret that money can be a confusing subject. The first question to ask is, “What is money, anyway?” Luckily, Mr. Barry provides a chapter on monetary history, tracing its evolution from seashells in ancient China to livestock in Mesopotamia to precious metals from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century and, finally, to the fiat currencies we have today. Of the latter, he notes:

We don’t have the gold standard anymore. Nobody does. Over the years, all the governments in the world, having discovered that gold is, like, rare, decided it would be more convenient to back their money with something that is easier to come by, namely: nothing.

That’s why, continues Mr. Barry, “to this day, if you – an ordinary citizen – go to Fort Knox and ask to exchange your U.S. dollars for gold, you will be used as a human chew toy by large federal dogs.”

He also explains in helpful detail how the U.S. economy works: It involves “the Federal Reserve Board, a mysterious organization that controls the economy from its secret Bat-Cave-style headquarters far beneath the surface of the earth.” From time to time, the Fed chairman climbs up and, much like the famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, looks around for his shadow, then “makes an ambiguous remark, and everybody tries to figure out what it means.”

I don’t know about you, but I never learned that in economics class. Probably because I never took an economics class. But if I had, I would have wanted to hear Keynesianism explained this succinctly:

Remember the part in Peter Pan where we clap to prove that we believe in fairies, and we save Tinker Bell? That’s our monetary system! It’s the Tinker Bell System! We see everybody else running around after these pieces of paper, and we figure, Hey, these pieces of paper must be valuable.

But beyond all the scholarly theory, Mr. Barry’s tome also offers practical advice on arguing about money with your spouse, tipping, saving on travel, and even getting rich the Donald Trump way (“Some ideas are good, and some are not. Know the difference. Donald Trump does!”). You’d probably have to buy 257 different books by Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, and that other guy who’s always on TV to get all of the information contained in this one volume.

So, you’re asking, am I now personally wealthy as a result of reading Mr. Barry’s book? Was it worth it? Well, because I work for a major retailer and received an advance copy of the book from the publisher gratis, I can honestly tell you that it has already paid for itself.

January 18, 2006