We have something different for the readers of MV=PQ today – an interview with the author of a new piece of economic fiction. Now, before you ask why don’t I do it as an MP3 file or otherwise take advantage of technology, let me state that I know many readers don’t have the latest technology or the fastest access to make those options really attractive. (Plus, I’m still on the upside of the learning curve.) Nevertheless, I think you’ll like the interview and I hope you’ll provide some feedback so I know whether to do more. Now to our guest =>
MV=PQ: This is an interview with Paul McDonnold, author of The Economics of Ego Surplus: A Novel of Economic Terrorism. Paul has taught at University of North Texas, University of Delaware and North Lake College in Irving, TX. Paul, welcome to MV=PQ
Thanks Tim. Happy to be here.
MV=PQ: Paul, there are a number of books that use fiction to set the stage for teaching economics. What attracted you to the field of "economic fiction"? And what do you think is the advantage of presenting concepts this way?
I learned from teaching that economics is one of those subjects where a subset of the population likes it very, very much, while outside of that group many view it with confusion, suspicion or even hostility. In trying to make problem sets more palatable to my principles students, I incorporated a fictional scenario involving a terrorist attack on the U.S. economy. The reaction I got was very positive, and writing was already a big hobby of mine, so I thought a full-out novel teaching economics would be a great thing to attempt. After that I found out about some of the other works in this little subgenre, like the Marshall Jevons mysteries. I also discovered Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, which is probably the ultimate model of success with a “teaching novel.” It teaches the history of philosophy and was a huge bestseller. For better or worse, we live in a culture where people demand to be entertained, so if you can teach them something valuable through entertainment you can really accomplish something.
MV=PQ: Who do you see as your primary audience with this book?
I made a decision while writing the book to keep the economics basic enough that it would have a wider potential market than just “econophiles.” I hope anyone who likes a good story and isn’t opposed to learning something new will give it a chance.
MV=PQ: I really enjoyed how you managed, for the greater part, to make the economic explanations flow into the narrative. In many cases, I wasn't even aware I was being "taught" until I was into the explanation. Were there other economic lessons that you considered and discarded because they didn't flow?
Definitely. A considerable amount of economics ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. I worked with an editor who is very much a literary person, not an economist. She impressed upon me the need to not turn some readers off with more involved economic digressions.
MV=PQ: This is kind of a follow up question to my previous one; I really thought this book passed quickly. Were you tempted to write a longer book?
Not really, I wanted the book to be economical in more ways than one! Also, as a reader I really like good shorter novels like The Great Gatsby, so I made that my target length.
MV=PQ: I noticed two of your supporting characters were named Smith and Marshall. I thought that was interesting. I was particularly impressed when, at one point Smith essentially told Kyle Linwood, the main character to do what he wanted. Was that intentional or accidental? And were there any other little bits I missed?
The funny thing is I spotted quite a bit of symbolism after it was written. So maybe it was operating on a subconscious level. I did think it made a lot of sense for Kyle to have a girlfriend named Smith. But the part where she tells him to do what he wants was not something I have considered. It is very interesting though!
MV=PQ: Do you use story-telling or current events to illustrate points in your courses?
Yes, it’s actually been a few years since I’ve taught, but I always tried to incorporate as much story-telling and current events as I could without watering the subject down. The classroom is a little different from a novel in that your audience is captive and you are tasked with teaching them a certain amount of the “meat” of the subject.
MV=PQ: So, are you a micro- or a macro-? I'm guessing macro because of the setting of your book.
MV= PQ: And a follow-up to the setting question that I just have to ask, did you get to go to Dubai to do research?
I’m a little ashamed to admit I did not. I wrote the novel in my spare time, entirely on spec, so time and money was always a factor. But the power of the Internet is amazing. I researched extensively and was even able to use Google Earth to “fly” around areas where I envisioned the action happening!
MV=PQ: Well, I must say I enjoyed the book and I hope my readers will find it of interest. Once again, the title is The Economics of Ego Surplus: A Novel of Economic Terrorism and this was an interview with the author Paul McDonnold. Paul, thank you and I look forward to your next effort.
Thank you, Tim. If the readers want to test drive the novel, a pdf of the first 54 pages can be downloaded free at http://starvinganalyst.com/.
There you have it. The first MV=PQ interview. I know I’m not in the same league with some of the other great economic interviewers out there, but I hope we get the chance to improve. In the interim, let me point you once again to The Economics of Ego Surplus: A Novel of Economic Terrorism. I’ll also put it on my carousel at left. It would make a great little stocking stuffer for the economics student or teacher in your life. And we’re still in time for Cyber Monday.
I look forward to your comments.