The Invisible Heart by Nancy Folbre (thoughts)
A bit later than planned, but I’m back. :) And I’ve got so many excellent books to blog about! I actually love having a bit of a review backlog, because that means on days when I’m up to writing multiple posts I actually have material.
Today, I’m discussing The Invisible Heart by Nancy Folbre, feminist economist and receipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Firmly aimed at a general readership, The Invisible Heart grew out of her grant and explores the limits and biases of neoliberal, ‘trust the market’ economic theory as well as alternatives. She weaves together policy analysis and personal stories (extra-appealing to me due to her displaced Texan status!) and convincingly answers many of the arguments against taxation, government regulation, etc. Indeed, for quite a short book (less than three hundred pages, including index and bibliography), it’s astonishing how much ground she manages to cover. Folbre provides a comprehensive overview of everything from a history of women’s work, both paid and unpaid, to taxation to public schooling from preschool through university to caring for the elderly to health to international economics and free trade. There is definitely a US focus, but Folbre also includes looks at other country’s systems and how they might translate to a US environment. While some of the issues are especially American on a political level, I think even non-Americans will enjoy seeing such a different economic paradigm put into action.
In case you can’t tell, I highly, highly recommend Nancy Folbre, regardless of your current economic philosophy. If you happen to be neoliberal, Folbre will give you much to think about (I think reading thoughtful, intelligent books by authors of different political persuasions is important). And if you’re already inclined towards the belief that a social safety net is a good thing, Folbre will crystalise your thinking and allow you to have better conversations with dissenting friends and family. Even if you have no inherent interest in economics whatsoever, I still urge you to read The Invisible Heart. Ultimately, it’s not a book about economics. It’s a book about what we value, as both individuals and a society, and what kind of behaviors and actions we reward. It’s about how to bring out the best in people and catch up the slack when individuals fail. It’s optimistic without being utopian, and I promise you’ll finish the book a little bit smarter or more thoughtful or hopeful.
It was all the more fascinating to read this book, published in 2001, in light of the more recent rise of Tea Party politics, the financial sector’s collapse, and Occupy Wall Street. She has another book, Greed, Lust and Gender, published in 2009, that my library doesn’t carry. I’ve submitted a purchase request and am hoping to see it in the catalogue soon! (If not I can always ILL it, but some books I want in my library’s system, you know?) In the meantime, just writing this post has made me tempted to get The Invisible Heart back out from the library and read it again. I almost wish I had read this earlier; I suspect if I’d first seen it in college it would have persuaded me to change majors and life plants. It’s that good.
(Oh! Almost forgot! For those curious about the biopsy, it had a mix of good and bad news, which requires yet more blood tests. Good thing I’m comfortable with needles!)
Suggested Companion Reads
- Deep Economy by Bill McKibben (McKibben presents an alternate economic paradigm and questions the neoliberal belief that growth is synonymous with progress.)
- Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (Another popular economics book that challenge neoliberal assumptions.)
- The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard (Leonard does an excellent job of explaining how allowing ‘the market’ to run things has led to an environmentally-destructive, potentially-soul-destroying consumerism and how we might change that.)
- Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang (Another economist, this one explains why current development aid/international trade policies are bad for developing nations and counter to the strategies currently developed ones practiced to improve their economies.)