An offbeat take on economics

Review: This Giant Beast That is the Global EconomyA new TV series outfreaks Freakonomics.


This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy

Available on Amazon Prime

Economics plays an important role in our everyday life, yet the subject is still seen by many as dry and boring. Over the past decade several hit books, most notably Freakoconomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, have attempted to make the subject more accessible to a wider public. This Amazon Prime documentary series aims to perform a similar function on the small screen by examining some important economic issues in an offbeat way.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

The series is composed of eight episodes that individually last for just over 40 minutes. Each episode deals with a particular topic that is related to the global economy, including money laundering, automation and corruption. Penn uses the topic as a hook to explore wider economic concepts, such as how competition and self-interest work to make everyone better off, or how economists attempt to put a value on human life.

The economic issues are discussed in serious interviews with experts, but these are interspersed and lightened with sequences where Penn tackles the topic in a hands-on manner. In the first episode, for example, he tries to set up his own Cypriot shell company; in the penultimate episode he "hires" a hitman. There are even some comedy sketches in one, the manager of a cafeteria demonstrates the many ways in which corruption can harm consumers. Another skit involves a wealthy student buying access to exams, illustrating how anti-money-laundering rules catch small-time crooks while allowing the large-scale criminals to carry on cheating.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The series has room for improvement. Some of the humorous sketches, such as the one set in Santa's workshop, are a bit cringeworthy; other segments are a little crude, such as the one featuring an adult-products factory that concludes the second episode. Penn also tries to cram too much into every episode, which sees him flit from topic to topic at a rapid pace. Indeed, you get the feeling that the episodes would benefit from being five to ten minutes longer, or at least examining a narrower range of topics in more depth.

Despite these shortcomings, the series is generally sharp and witty, and provides an original take on economic topics that frequently appear in the headlines. It is also nice to see a company such as Amazon taking some risks. Let's hope that the show encourages people who are otherwise uninterested in current affairs to think a bit more deeply about the economic underpinnings of modern life.




Theatre review: The Visit

Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss classic The Visit, transported to 1950s America, poses the question: how much would you kill for?
28 Feb 2020

Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019

Coming to terms with Anna Sorokin

My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York CityWilliams is a solid writer who does a good job of explaining how she, and other int…
21 Aug 2019

Book in the news… the inside story of Spain’s tumultuous crisis

After the Fall Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New SpainA book that goes beyond politics to offer a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a country.
21 Aug 2019

Most Popular


Three things matter for the UK housing market now – and “location” isn’t one of them

The UK housing market is frozen. And when it does eventually thaw out, the traditional factors that drive prices will no longer apply. The day of reck…
1 Apr 2020

What does the coronavirus crisis mean for UK house prices?

With the whole country in lockdown, the UK property market is closed for business. John Stepek looks at what that means for UK house prices, housebuil…
27 Mar 2020
Small business

Furlough: what does it mean and how does it affect me?

Many companies have “furloughed” employees after they have shut down because of the coronavirus. But what does furlough mean and how does the scheme w…
30 Mar 2020

Buy stocks for the long term, but buy very carefully

After the wild ride of the last couple of weeks, equities are no longer expensive. But if you do decide to buy, be very, very careful indeed, says Mer…
30 Mar 2020