‘We the Economy’ Answers Complex Questions in Short Episodes

The economy this. The economy that. So much news coverage talks about the economy, but for those who avoided that class in college, what does “the economy” mean? We the Economy, a new online documentary series, offers some engaging explanations.

We the Economy consists of 20 short videos organized around a series of questions that parse the economy’s complexities into accessible information. The questions center on money, government regulation, resources, globalization, and equality. Each short within the series offers an answer to a specific question, such as, “Why is the law of supply and demand so powerful,” “What is the real value of a dollar,” and “What do human rights have to do with the economy.” They run 5-8 minutes.

Each short answers its question with a distinct, engaging style. The mix of techniques across the shorts is wild: animation, live action, stagings, talking heads, fun voiceover, and music. While some of the shorts follow the more traditional documentary techniques such as talking heads, archival materials, and voiceover, others push the boundaries of style and subject. Jessica Yu’s Taxation Nation evokes the Schoolhouse Rock shorts from Saturday morning cartoons. Lee Hirsch’s Recession explains the concept using a stunning shadow dance routine performed by Pilobus.

Taken together, the series covers a wide range of disparate topics without being overwhelming or condescending. These shorts tackle a topic with a depth that no single documentary can begin to approach. The diverse perspectives provide a range of viewpoints that open conversation and raise questions without reducing the complexities to binaries.

The people creating the videos represent a who’s who of documentary: Joe Berlinger, Jehane Noujaim, Marshall Curry, Barbara Kopple, Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing, and Steve James. Werner Herzog also makes an appearance as a reality check in Ramin Bahrani’s Lemonade War.

Check out the website for a richer experience with director interviews and comments, charts, and external links related to each question.

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