The Invisible Hand

I’m fascinated and repelled by the idea of the artistic marketplace–as in “right now the romance marketplace is constricted in terms of historicals.” I say this sort of thing all the time. And indeed since at least Adam Smith, people have been invested in thinking about the marketplace as if it were sentient. Smith coined the term “invisible hand” in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), where it describes how rich people’s consumption helps the poor. But he most famously used the phrase in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776):

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.

And thus were a thousand neoliberal economic policies launched. But I digress.

What Smith is saying (I think) is that we’re running around acting irrationally in terms of our self-interest but unbeknownst to us, our production and consumption decisions are being shaped by (and are shaping) the market in which we participate. This market is greater than the sum of all the choices the producers and consumers in it make. If we try to shape the market consciously–for good, but maybe also for profit–we will fail. The market is uncontrollable but real.

Or you know, something like that.

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Hard Work

I was thinking about a review that I read for Ruthie Knox’s latest novella, Making It Last — which in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read yet — specifically of a line in which the reviewer called it and other ‘marriage in trouble’ romances Important.

I can’t find the exact review now; I don’t mean to establish a strawman. I doubt the reviewer capitalized Important, and yet I sensed the emphasis, the sort of 18th century abstract, personified ideal attached to the pronouncement.

Certainly it is accurate to say happily ever afters do not simply happen. They must be cultivated and protected. Relationships are, as your aunt explained to you at your bridal shower, hard work.

More seriously, not every moment of a long-term relationship is sunshine and flowers and champagne. The trust that you build up in the difficult moments (and years) bears fruit in the balance. You love each other more for the wee small hours when you’re caring together for a sick child, or for the unconditional support he offers you during a professional crisis, etc. I’ve been in my relationship for 14 years (married for 9 of those); this is not simply something I believe, but something I live.

To the extent that romance doesn’t represent past the happy ever after and that ‘marriage in trouble’ romances are corrective, I am behind this designation. And yet…

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