Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Review: ‘The Invisible Heart’, by Russell Roberts

I always thought that free-market enthusiasts got an unfair shake when it came to `Matters of the Heart" (free-marketers get a bad shake on almost everything, but especially this.) For too long, `love' and `caring' have been concepts monopolized by the John Lennon's and Michael Moore's of the world. Now, Russell Roberts has formed a romance that finally does justice to the 'romantic free-marketer.'

The story follows Sam Gordon, an economics teacher and a passionate supporter of free-markets, and Laura Silver, and equally passionate professor of literature (who-by the way- is the `anti-Gordon' when it comes to markets.)

Perchance these two meet in the subway, and not so surprising considering there viewpoints, a debate ensues. Despite very different opinions, they find they enjoy each others company.

There is also a nice parallel story about Charles Krauss, a corrupt CEO of a pharmaceutical company, and Erica Baldwin, an employee at the `Office of Corporate Responsibility', who is trying to bring him down. There is a pleasant surprise concerning this story-line (which, for any who know about Russell Roberts, feels odd), which I won't ruin.

All this cumulates to the end where, after many debates, politics, and courting, it all comes down to a very satisfying ending. It is fair to say that this story is about two main things: Love and Economics; but I don't want to imply that the characters are forgotten, each character Robert's develops is suitably complex, the characters feel real and sincere, as does their romance.

What is so delightful about this book is the breezy and fluid way in which it is written; Robert's moves from international economic theory, to relationships, to politics and scheming, all without missing a beat.

The portrayal of the characters is also a strong point. People with different viewpoints are not seen as villains in the context of the book; Robert's makes a point that Sam and Laura are really like-minded people, despite there different viewpoints.

`The Invisible Heart', is a play on Adam's `Invisible Hand', which is the metaphor used to explain the way a natural economy is able to create complex systems with no central control. Just like the play on words implies, `the invisible heart' refers to the way a free-economy naturally helps the poor, sick and unable, all without coercion. It also has a double meaning, in describing the `heart' of economists and those who believe in free-markets. At one point a character describes economists as `a grim lot, only concerned with money', this book dispenses with that notion.

Roberts is incredibly fair-minded (though not `equality-minded.'). He makes points about the environment, charity, and admits that free-markets sometimes hurt people. Robert's doesn't sugarcoat anything, but displays it in its full context.

My favorite part of the book is Sam's final speech. For too long people have been holding on to the misconception that economics is only about money, this has never been true; an economic `value' can not be measured in a purely monetary way, `matters of the heart', or human motivation, needs, and wants; are the biggest part of economics, not the transfer of goods or services. At one point Sam proclaims, "The purpose of life is to live as richly as possible", a statement which is not about money, one that I think most would agree with.

With Roberts's first novel, `The Choice', he entertained me, with this novel; he has earned a loyal reader. Some say `write what you know', others say, `write what your passionate about', in this case Roberts has done both; his knowledge and passion for the subject matter and the characters comes out in every page, which makes for an incredibly enjoyable read.


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