July 12, 2015

Review Corner

"You're the only guy I know who can make misery sound inspiring."

"Capitalism involves struggle, but it has an invisible heart beating at its core that transforms people's lives. If you give it the chance. Look at the full picture and you get a very different perspective."

Russ Roberts got a nice, five star review last fall for his superb How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness. Looking for his latest EconTalk with Matt Ridley, I see Bing® returns seven pages if you search russ roberts site:threesources.com. There were two, but I just recently discovered the older one in which he interviewed Ridley after the release of The Rational Optimist [Review Corner]. Listening (as everybody should) I heard Lord Ridley mention The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance . I snapped it up on Kindle.

Invisible Heart was released in 2002 (they had books back then?) and is more on the lines of his "The Price of Everything." Economic concepts are woven into a fictional story, where freedom lovers seek romance as they edify potential love interests (my tears are welling up as I type...) Both "Price" and "Heart" are very enjoyable reads -- with very good economic ideas.

Invisible Heart is set in a tony Washington DC prep school. Protagonist Sam Gordon teaches economics; Literature teacher, Laura Silver, comes from a lefty family of lawyers and consumer advocates. Does this thing have a chance? [No spoilers here...] Yet as she eavesdrops on his class she begins to be exposed to different concepts.

"One hundred years ago," he continued, "over forty percent of the American labor force was in farming. Now it's less than three percent. Imagine a heart-rending television show about the kids at the turn of the century being driven off the farm by technology that improved farm productivity. Do you think those kids and their children today are glad that we let that happen? Imagine how impoverished our lives would be today if we had decided to stop changes in farming out of 'compassion.'"

I am making it seem more heavy handed than it is -- there are some very surprising plot twists as they explore capitalism's benefits and shortcomings in the shadow of closing factories and televised congressional hearings of a greedy CEO. Yet, instead of insipid collectivism, the dialog has things ThreeSourcers might actually say.
"I thought you liked private charity, Sam." "I do. And I think it's lovely when wealthy people give their wealth away. There's nothing wrong with the concept of 'giving something.' It's the extra word 'back' that drives me nuts. It implies that the wealth was stolen, that it once belonged to the community and should be returned.

At the end of the book, there is an extra reading assignment for each chapter (Not Sure Jayne Ann Krentz does this) directing readers to Bastiat, Hayek, Adam Smith. I discovered a Hayek book I hadn't encountered.

Fun stuff. Five stars without question. To be honest, I would recommend the newer "The Price of Everything" above this one. But reading either, you'd soon want the other.

"That surprises me, Sam. Here we are [at the Jefferson Memorial] in the heart of government power, looking at its religious monuments. I thought you were the great skeptic of government power." "True. But I love America. It's still the place of possibility, the best place to dream of what might be. And that's because of a deeply held conviction many Americans have in the power of being left to one's own devices. The power of liberty to unleash the human spirit and let it soar."

Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at July 12, 2015 1:32 PM

I remember the review of the Adam Smith piece. I didn't remember Invisible Heart, and now you've made me want to track that down.

Using a work of fiction to teach lessons of economics, the "dismal science"? I suppose you could, he said, shrugging.

Speaking of fiction, Smith, and economics, I would be grateful if you'd take a look at my final comment on the "Wrong Side of History" post, from 8:06 PM on July 9. I am loath to invoke names without the permission of their owners.

By the way, at your recommendation, I picked up a copy of Boudreaux' "The Essential Hayek" and have been delighted by it. I can see myself lending this to a number of people in my life who would benefit from it. Thanks for recommending it -

Posted by: Keith Arnold at July 13, 2015 12:08 AM

Mea maxima culpa! I was simply too flattered to respond right away; and then my head would not fit through the door when I was going to come back and respond. Of course of course of course. Have your people send my people all the release paperwork.

Glad as well to hear you picked up Boudreaux's book. It's short enough that you could share it with some unlikely prospects. I just finished Hayek's Individualism and Economic Order (little tougher slog) and remain amazed by his economic case for liberty. His ideas were never refuted -- yet, had they listened in 1935...

Oh well.

Posted by: jk at July 13, 2015 9:28 AM

And to clarify my fuzzy prose and missing antecedents: This review is for Invisible Heart. The How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life review mentions surprise that there is no extant Review Corner for "The Price of Everything." ©2008. that may have preceded Review Corner but I have mentioned it a few times and it is very good.

Posted by: jk at July 13, 2015 9:36 AM

It took me a while to ascertain that you were quoting from a FICTIONAL work. But we certainly could have written what you attributed to us!

You have my permission as well, although I think the author attribution reads better with the single syllable name in the last position. ;)

Posted by: johngalt at July 14, 2015 2:53 PM

Don't think of it as fictional; think of it as something from a few years in the future in an alterate timeline. There's at least one more collaboration as a follow-up volume: "Washington, Lincoln, Coolidge, Reagan, and Renard: Five Great Presidents" that will need to be published.

As for the name order... there's a certain cadence to what you say. Kander and Ebb, Rogers and Hart, you know. I will take that under advisement, or perhaps leave you two to thumb-wrestle for it...

Posted by: Keith Arnold at July 14, 2015 5:13 PM

The bio blurb on my next CD will read "He has been compared to Lorenz Hart." (I may not mention that it was for syllabic paucity.)

Posted by: jk at July 14, 2015 5:27 PM

What does he want from us JK? What's with the flattery festival? ;)

Would I be getting too far out in front of future history to say, "Make room for me on Mount Rushmore?"

Posted by: johngalt at July 14, 2015 5:39 PM

I've never been circumspect of flattery -- it's one of my endearing qualities.

Posted by: jk at July 14, 2015 5:59 PM | What do you think? [8]