Monday, December 19, 2011

John De Graaf and David Batker Book Tour Review

Town Hall Seattle

University Book Stores

December 13, 2011

I don’t know what exists in heaven but hell must be a cocktail party full of Economists with no booze.

Filmmaker,John De Graaf and EconomistDavid Batker showed up today to discuss their new book "What's the Economy for Anyway?"

This book is based off of the movie/info/documentary the two men made that has received a great deal of notice. It’s backwards since usually the movie comes after the book but hats off to the two authors, for this accomplishment.

The book’s basic premise is that the measure of the economy should be in question, and in fact the whole measurement economic value should be changed. These are utopian ideals based on principles and while some of their concepts are immeasurable and intangible the two men’s presentation was downright solid.

Now I am no economist and I could not be further outside my area of expertise but let me say, economics is a boring a subject but tonight it could not have been any more entertaining.

Inside Town Hall’s basement I am waiting with my friend Nick who tags along
Next door to the lecture hall, there is a raucous reception, (invite only), with about forty people in honor of the authors.

I am sitting in the front row engaged in conversation with a delightful older lady about how she believes this movie was important and the economic concepts are spot on. She is a big fan of the movie (which I have never heard of) and talks as if Nick and I both own a personal copy so we go along with the conversation. Then a man sits between us and he starts talking about the book. Another man seated behind joins in on the conversation. It’s so happy here among strangers, I thought we were all going to have to rent a house together.

Then a man stands next to me. We make eye contact and he introduces himself to me as David. Swear to God he is the friendliest man I ever met and oh yeah by the way I had no fricking idea who I am talking to now.

David: “Nice to meet you Claudio”
Me: “You too. Wow big crowd. Were you over at the reception?”

OF COURSE was at the reception: this was David Batker, he was the guest of honor. But no I’m still oblivious and we keep talking until I make a complete ass of myself asking, “Have you read this book?”

If this had been another author, say Andrew Vachss, I would have been escorted out to the back of the building and beaten until I apologized.

Mr. Batker, could not have been more gracious in telling me he was in fact the co-author. The lack of pretension was so genuine, and so refreshing that I thought more authors could use this man’s charm to connect with potential readers.

Oh yeah, the reading.

John De Graaf, the film maker of the duo starts out the evening. He is a veteran film maker and wears the same mischievous smile you saw plastered on the Caddyshack gopher.

Mr. De Graaf opens well by stating that there will be no boring PowerPoint presentations because in his words, “power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupt absolutely.” It’s a funny line which leads into Mr. De Graaf showing the first part of the documentary that staring who else but the man I didn’t recognize: David Batker.

There is a danger in showing a movie at a reading. It has all the trappings of someone inviting you to watch their wedding video. It can be boring and staid and the presenter risks losing the audience or worse, hiding behind celluloid but De Graaf shows just enough to get the conversation started and it works.

Tonight is about left wing utopian ideals. It's about how we all need more time off, how people in other countries besides the U.S. are healthier and less sick when they work less. How other countries are more productive than the U.S. with more time less stress and a greater sense of community.

They wrote a book about problems of the world and they actually offer their own solutions that support their arguments.

Tonight they fed us statistics about what Americans feel, what the world should be and how wealth should be distributed. They talk of how outdated the GDP is as a measuring tool for the economy and how it is relied upon so much that it handcuffs progress. De Graaf and Batker would like to include the Bhutan’s National Happiness Index.

They believe the economy will grow if we change accounting practices, not like Enron changed accounting practices, but a new paradigm; such as including the environmental value of wetlands protecting the Gulf Coast. Batker argues that the value of a wetland protecting the Gulf Coast from tropical storms should be included so that the inland destruction averted by wetland preservation would save millions in rebuilding cost for the future.

Regarding the authors, I must say that I appreciate the level of discourse the two men are willing to engage in with the audience. They were entertaining, open, kind men who did not waste my time as they presented their book. (Kudos to Batker, he actually asked people to buy the book. No doubt the publisher is happy as is the sponsorUniversity Book Storeas was the audience.

Tonight they were preaching to the choir but I had the feeling that De Graaf and Batker would have engaged an opposing views if there were any to be found in the crowd. In fact allow me to make a serious observation of the audience; it was so far to the left that we were in danger of going full circle and running into Fox News Corp headquarters.

This audience, resembled the crowd downtown Seattle's "occupy protest movements" and some even had police pepper scented body spray. So help me God if one person stepped up and offered a counter argument to Batker I would have called 911 for that person’s safety.

Questions like how “other” places receive Batker and De Graaf came up. De Graaf mentioned that other parts outside of Seattle had been receptive to their ideas even in the “South” Yes because we all understand that NO SOUTHERNER is concerned about environment, community, or having the desire to change the status quot regarding the economy. No, only people in Seattle have the moral fiber and acuity to understand what is best for the world. We all know there are no are no right minded conservatives here just like we all know there are no liberals in Idaho.

Of course I am being sarcastic. I encourage people to go to these things to expand their minds. I enjoy listening to conversation that moves people and love that the Tea Party and the Occupiers give a damn but to listen to people in this crowd tonight, even if I agree with some of their points it is a nice reminder that liberals too - can be bigots.

During the open mic question, OH DID THE LUNATIC FRINGE TAKE OVER. Nothing makes my Cheetos stained hands clap together faster than when the nuts come out for a book reading and tries to take over the stage. First question is this pickle head who takes five full minutes to make a speech and yell at the audience out for not being involved in government. Earlier this same nut case, handed my friend Nick a card attempting to recruit minions to his movement. I want to yell "Dude get your own lecture hall"

Another believer gets up (THIS WAS A FIRST), he read his question off a lap top computer. WOW! Then as the two authors try to answer this he was typing Batker’s answer in real time as if his blog followers could not wait for the answer in real time. Oh yeah, question was about globalization. It was so long, complex and disjointed, that he must have been working on the question for over a week. Somehow Batker and De Graaf got through it, but I swear I still don’t know what the kid wanted to know.

The whole Q & A session was a hot mess and it was great. Mr. Batker kept up his energy and showed his charm while Mr. De Graaf kept that gopher smile on his face like a drunk at a open bar enjoying the moment. Still they had to be wondering if Malcolm Gladwell or Hernando de Soto got questions like this.

Still they were worth checking out