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Alan’s fascinating Economist comix

  • December 13th, 2012

I finished a new novel this morning. The Rough Mechanical: The Man Who Could. I recommend it to students of economics, history and of New Zealand heroes.

It is a curious work – essentially a fictionalised introduction to the heroic period of economics, when Hayek, Kaldor, Keynes, Galbraith and other giants were doing the work that would turn them into 'isms' contending with the older and more malign darling of the intellectuals – Marxism.

 The hero is a New Zealander, the thinly reconstructed William Phillips, definer of the Phillips curve. The book grew on me, becoming more interesting as it got further into the interaction of economists, politicians, officials, military and spooks in the uncertain and dangerous days after WW2, as Stalinist agression ramped up. But it scoots over such vast territory that I was reminded of Classics Illustrated, the comix that helped baby boomers to pretend to having read the world's literary classics.

It is fascinating for another reason. The author is himself a Man Who Could, the polymath next Secretary of APEC in Singapore and until recently Governor of New Zealand's Reserve Bank and a personal friend. Throughout the book I could not put aside astonishment at Alan's virtuosity, in publishing a fictional trailer for the substantive work to follow, a life of Phillips. I'm not sure why he seems to dumb down some stereotypical characters (RAF pilot toffs and crusty mechanics, spooks with eyes set too close together and bad breath, a beautiful East German spy). The emotional tension devices are not subtle (would the East German spy seduce the hero away from his dutiful wife and was she loyal despite Phillips' provocations?). Perhaps it is just the fun of experimenting with spoof. Perhaps it is to masquerade in a genre that disguises the underlying tour of economists. Perhaps it is aimed at young people who need to have Punch and Judy clearly labelled in a setting that is now remote to them.

Whatever the reasons it makes this puzzling, but for those who know Alan, all the more intriguing.



I’m literally gobsmacked. What a stunner. Definitely going into the Christmas cart.


I read an early version of this five or so years ago. I liked it. I was interested in Bill Phillips anyway but thought the story was strong and tackled some Big Issues well, and also the personal emotional stuff. Can’t think of another good novel that deals with economic theory.


[…] The Rough Mechanical: the man who couldis availableas a download from Amazon. Stephen Franks likes it. So do I, having read it in manuscript a few years ago: when I met Alan subsequently I badgered him […]


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