Cover image for The invisible heart : economics and family values
The invisible heart : economics and family values
Folbre, Nancy.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xx, 267 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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HB72 .F637 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Using the image of "the invisible heart", a MacArthur Award-winning economist argues that if we don't establish a new set of rules defining the mutual responsibilities for caregiving, the penalties suffered by the needy--our very families--will increase.

Author Notes

Nancy Folbre, a MacArthur Fellow, teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Economics professor Folbre brings the dismal science to bear on the overused political concept of family values. Specifically, she looks at how the financial market values, or doesn't value, caregiving, which women often provide free of charge. She draws a parallel between Adam Smith's invisible hand of the market (the pursuit of self-interest that promotes economic growth) and a posited invisible heart, encompassing the family values of love, obligation, and reciprocity. Folbre argues for looking beyond the old economic conflict between socialism and capitalism to explore ways of balancing freedom and obligation at a time when global competition has intensified economic debate by "now sending the message that nice countries finish last, too." Each chapter focuses on an aspect of economics and family values, and each section examines economic theory, social and economic policy, and strategies for the future. Folbre leavens the economics with personal recollections, so that this is a very accessible book for nonspecialist readers interested in economics and social policy. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

As the "invisible hand" of the free market and the competitive individualism it engenders increasingly dominate public life, contends UMass-Amherst economist and MacArthur fellow Folbre (Who Pays for the Kids?), we risk losing the other necessary component of a healthy society: "the invisible heart," a care system for children, the aged and the infirm. The market does not provide such support, and in the prescribed labor divisions of old, women fulfilled this need for little or no recompense. But now that women have begun to shuck off this enforced role, where, asks Folbre, will care come from? In seeking an answer, she delivers an incisive, informed social critique. Government, she contends, provides a bureaucratic hodgepodge of programs that serves few well and punishes the poor. Regressive taxation assures that some will be able to afford more care than others; unequal school funding guarantees some will become better educated than others. Corporations neglect social responsibilities in favor of the bottom line. In the end, Folbre concludes, we are all responsible for one another, but only radical changes in how we live and work democratic control of the economy, a dramatic redistribution of wealth and so on will strengthen the ethic of solidarity and reciprocity that is a prerequisite for such care. Folbre makes an important contribution to the discussion of what our society could be, and her humor and insight elevate her book above mere political diatribe. (Apr. 1) Forecast: Folbre's progressive/feminist response to "compassionate conservatism" should spark lively debate and sales. This is perfect for the sociology or cultural crit classroom and will also appeal to fans of fellow MacArthur recipient Mike Davis (Prisoners of the American Dream). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

MacArthur Award winner Folbre (economics, Univ. of Massachusetts) specializes in the interaction of feminist theory and political economy. In this readable, well-documented, and thought-provoking work, she discusses the invisible heart of caring labor, which is not easily put in terms of dollars. She explains how this concept relates to Adam Smith's notion of the invisible hand with regard to supply and demand and the pursuit of self-interests. For centuries, women provided care for free in the home. Now, with more of them working outside the home, what used to be a priority for them is in the hands of institutions that do not obtain the funding priorities other endeavors have in the global economy. The ability to provide personal and loving care is being eroded. Folbre discusses how government, society, and employers can look at economic theory and practice to prioritize what individuals and institutions can do for the care of children, the sick, and the elderly. A good choice for academic and large public libraries.DSteven J. Mayover, formerly with the Free Lib. of Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This highly original work focuses on the conflicts individuals and families face in meeting simultaneous obligations to be productive in the formal labor market and in the caring work that occurs at home and in the community. This simple statement does not do justice to this book's complexity and richness. It is a personal and intellectual memoir. It is a critique of the contemporary economic system and an analysis of alternative systems. It is an exploration of how economics values, or undervalues, the role of caring work in society. Folbre (a MacArthur fellow and economics professor, Univ. of Massachusetts at Amherst) is too sophisticated, however, simply to reject all the insights that economics has to offer. The reader is constantly surprised as she moves, nearly seamlessly, from discussing her father's work with a wealthy, complicated Texas family or her experience as a Texan transplanted to New York City, to discussing poverty and public policy, school finance, and the effects of globalization, among other issues. This book would be an effective complement to standard analyses of social policy as well as a highly engaging introduction for upper-division undergraduates seeking a clear articulation of the limits of mainstream economic analysis when it moves into the realm of nonmarket activity. Academic and research collections. E. Magenheim Swarthmore College

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xi
I. The Economics of Care
1. The Milk of Human Kindnessp. 3
2. The Care Penaltyp. 22
3. Measuring Successp. 53
II. Good Government
4. The Nanny Statep. 83
5. Children as Petsp. 109
6. Robin Hood Schoolp. 136
7. The Golden Eggsp. 159
III. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
8. CorporNationp. 185
9. Dancing in the Darkp. 209
Notesp. 233
Indexp. 257