The Visible Hand by Matthew Hennessey

The Visible Hand introduces teens to basic free-market economics in a way that’s accessible and entertaining.

The Visible Hand: A Wealth of Notions on the Miracle of the Market by Matthew Hennesey. Encounter Books, 2022, 220 pages.

Reading Level: Teen, ages 16-18

Recommended for: ages 15-up

Who says we can’t have everything?

What’s the problem with a minimum wage? Why can’t we afford a vacation this year? If gas prices go too high, isn’t there something the government can do to fix it? These are legitimate questions that even teenagers may be starting to ask. Mark Hennessey is a journalist, not an economist—in fact he never even thought much about economics until he was old enough to realize how much it affected everyday life. He thought it was about money and stock market indices. But it’s really not about money at all. A lesson from his high-school science teacher applies here: Life is not determined by what you want. Life is determined by the choices you make. Likewise, “economics is about choices in an environment of scarcity.” Even in a society like ours, richer than any in history, there are limits to what we can buy and implement.

It didn’t start with Adam Smith

The Visible Hand (a takeoff from Adam Smith’s “Invisible hand” of the free market) is not charts and graphs: this is not about numbers, but about everyday life. Hennessey uses anecdote and personal example to realities like price fluctuations, markets, inflation, work and wages. Political catchphrases like “living wage,” “affordable housing,” and “economic justice” come in for scrutiny also. Fairness and equity are noble concepts and worth striving for, but in an environment of scarcity they’ll never be fully achieved. The “Miracle of the Market,” with its operative notions of liberty and unconstrained choice, has achieved more prosperity for more people than top-down redistribution ever has or ever will.

Of course this point of view and is hotly contested, not only by the left but also, more recently, by elements of the right. The next-to-last chapter addresses the “The Anti-Marketeers,” and may be too political for a teenager’s taste. Hennessey’s claim that free-market concepts are laws akin to gravitation may be up for debate. So, debate them. But be sure you understand the position first, and Hennessey makes his position as clear as anyone could.


The author quotes some scripture but makes no particular faith claims. There are a one or two instances of mildly crude language and one “damn.”

Overall Rating: 4

Worldview/moral value: 3.5Artistic/literary value: 4.5

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Also at Redeemed Reader

Reviews: Some practical books about money and budgeting, reviewed here and here.Review: The Year Money Grew on Trees is an excellent novel for exploring entrepreneurship, hard work, and the profit motive.Reflection: What about the Tuttle Twins? and the limits of free-market principles.

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