Lucid, thoughtful defense of free market competition.


Why We Bite the Invisible Hand


Philosophical defense of capitalism combined with a psychological critique of its detractors.

Foster is no stranger to contentious economic dispute. A veteran financial journalist, he’s also the author of Self-Serve: How Petrocan Pumped Canadians Dry (1992), which won Canada’s National Business Book Award. In his latest effort, he ambitiously attempts a rehabilitation of capitalism, both as a motor of prosperity and as a moral account of human relations. While the book begins polemically, criticizing the populism of President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, it is far more historically and philosophically oriented than centered on contemporary political debate. Foster aims to revive the spirit of Adam Smith, who, in the 18th century, defined our understanding of capitalism as a “system of natural liberty.” Astutely, the author fleshes out the basic theoretical underpinnings of capitalism, often oversimplified in public discourse, and explains the intended meaning of the notorious “invisible hand” of market decision-making. Foster also tries to explain the motivational psychology behind the vehement resistance to capitalism despite its global success as well as the persistence of those who, following the likes of John Maynard Keynes, remain devoted to the view that government intervention is the primary stimulant of economic growth. Sometimes his accounts of those opposing capitalism can seem reductive, belying the book’s overall rigor: “Income and wealth gaps are inevitably the object of envy, a moral sentiment that evolved to express disapproval of, and motivate action against, those thought to have more than their ‘fair share.’ From this perspective,” he says, “envy of those who grow wealthy in relatively free capitalist societies through their success in serving others amounts to a cognitive ‘error.’ ” Overall, though, the book is admirably free of ax-grinding political allegiances; it isn’t often such an unabashed endorsement of free markets also includes reservations about Ayn Rand.

Lucid, thoughtful defense of free market competition.

Pub Date: April 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0992127602

Page Count: 503

Publisher: Pleasaunce Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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