Author Adds A Dash of Spice To Economics

AUTHOR Todd Buchholz finds that some people consider economics to be like a bad steak -- ''dry, tough, and tasteless.'' So in his latest book he tries to make the subject more palatable by adding Woody Allen, David Letterman, and other pop-culture tidbits to his explanations.

''From Here to Economy: A Shortcut to Economic Literacy'' (Dutton, 278 pp., $21.95) is an informative, generally effective primer. Its author, a Harvard University-trained lawyer and chief economist at an international consulting firm, is well-versed in economics but occasionally goes overboard with his hip examples.

He educates readers on topics like inflation (''prices go up, and money is worth less''), federal spending (''the deficit is a short annual story, while the debt is an epic, generational tale''), and mutual funds (''The word mutual certainly does not by itself mean that the fund is especially safe. Think of the Titanic as a mutual vacation'').

Buchholz, whose resume includes a stint as a White House economic adviser, also discusses the ins and outs of international trade and investment -- including the fact that Britain, not Japan, is the biggest foreign owner of United States assets.

Real-life anecdotes add to the book's appeal. For instance, in his explanation of dumping -- the practice of selling a product to another country at a price below cost or below what it is sold for at home -- Buchholz chides the US for sometimes overreacting: ''In the 1980s,'' he writes, ''the U.S. accused Poland of dumping, of all things, golf carts on the market, even though Poland does not sell any golf carts at home. When was the last time you saw Lech Walesa working on his backswing?''

Buchholz also gives readers the low-down on stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, and some investing tips on each. He wraps up with a chapter on the history of economic thought.

The book is thorough, but a glossary for easy reference to the text's many italicized terms would make it more useful for neophytes.

Tax Dollars at Work

THE April filing deadline has barely passed but already estimates from the Tax Foundation in Washington indicate that federal, state, and local governments will take in about $2.183 trillion in taxes this year -- or about $8,303 for each resident of the United States. The total amount is up 5.7 percent over last year and is 31 percent higher than the 1990 figure.

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