Pick Of The Week: Economics Is For Everyone! (RSA)

Blake Harris 08.03.2016

Economics is important…but much too complicated for non-economists to understand, right? Well, economist Ha-Joon Chang begs to differ. At least on a fundamental level. He believes that every single person can and should get their head around basic economics. And his perspective has never been more accessible than it is in our PICK OF THE WEEK: Economics is for Everyone!, an engaging, explainer video based on a recent speech given by Ha-Joon Chang.

Economics is for Everyone! is the latest RSA Animate video from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts. The RSA is an incredible and inspiring organization for several reasons, including the fact that, back in 2009, they pioneered the whiteboard animation technique. This new approach was a smashing success, thanks largely to Andrew Park, the animator who brought this new style to life. In this most recent video, our PICK OF THE WEEK, Park’s animation studio (Cognitive Media), help Chang pull back the curtain on the often mystifying language of derivatives and quantitative easing, and explain how easily economic myths and assumptions become gospel.

3 Things We Loved About This Whiteboard Animation

1. Great Use (and Placement) of Metaphors: The video opens with very literal illustrations and animations that underscore the beats that begin Chang’s speech. And this is a good thing, it works very well here. Especially given the length (11 minutes) and the subject matter (something that, to the speaker’s point, intimidates most of us). By drawing images and icons that represent the points Chang makes, it helps ground the viewer and find their footing in the speaker’s narrative.

In other words–and exactly to Chang’s point–although we may not be too familiar with economists, most of us are familiar with these four areas…

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…despite not having a degree in any of those fields.

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Only then, after bringing the viewer into the basis for Ha-Joon Chang’s speech, Cognitive Media illustrates the first extended metaphor. And it’s a wonderful one whose origin isn’t necessarily tied to anything Chang says directly, but fits the concept he’s talking about perfectly:

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This Wizard of Oz reference isn’t just great because the concept (of a not-as-perfect-as-he-appears Oz) doesn’t just align thematically, but because for those familiar with the film (which is likely most of the viewers) it also conjures up feelings that we associate associate with that film: the journey to empowerment which, ultimately, is what this whole whiteboard illustrated video is about.

2. Mr. Chang Enters The World of Whiteboard Animation

Ha-Joon Chang’s Economics is for Everyone! speech includes many instances of him challenging conventional assumptions by asking questions aloud.

Each time Chang does this, it breaks his narrative. That’s the point, really. To take a step back and re-consider the information and actions he’s just mentioned. As a speaker, this is effective. But as an animator, it can be difficult to figure out the best way to translate this on-screen. Because, for the most part, what’s being illustrated isn’t Chang talking but the actual things that he is talking about. Wisely, however, Cognitive Media chooses to include Chang himself in the whiteboard animation, primarily on occasions where he asks questions, and where he makes over-arching larger points. Like this:

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Examples like these are scattered throughout the video. Not only do they become useful tools to highlight certain points and pause to pace a question, but the consistent (but not overwhelming) conclusion of Mr. Chang in the video works as a way to remind the viewer that what they’re watching is a speech. By a very knowledgeable and interesting guy. In other words, his inclusion serves to subtly help the viewer avoid pair the animation to its intrinsic informational value.

3. Memorable Panels

From the dialogue bubbles to the way Ha-Joon Chang becomes a character in the explainer video, there is a comic-book-like sensibility to how this  RSA animate video is constructed. To that end, since there are so many beautiful “panels” in this vide–panels that, like a comic book, may be still but somehow feel action-packed–we thought it best to end this piece by highlighting a few of our favorites:

Depicting the relationship between wealth and fulfillment…

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Presenting the roots of reality…

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Serving economists (himself included) a slice of humble pie…

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Blake Harris

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