"Like, what ideas?" asked Enid, her bushy unibrow rising in a coltish arc.
"It's pretty much a primer on laissez-faire: Why air-bag laws and other varieties of paternalistic legislation are ineffective and demeaning, why pay inequity isn't a bad thing, why unfettered capitalism is good for consumers, why welfare should be privatized, why anti-discrimination law is unreasonably intrusive, why paying low wages to Third World workers isn't exploitation, plus the benefits of emissions trading...."
"I see," Enid said. "Milton Friedman meets Harlequin romance. Who would want to read that? Why did you read it?" Suddenly she was eyeing him suspiciously.
"Pure curiosity. The same reason I read the Holocaust comic strip. But after a few pages, I had to give the book some respect. It's intellectually serious. The author handles his ideas rigorously, and he lets Laura ask tough questions. He also brings passion and eloquence to his defense of capitalism as a system whose benefits are primarily moral and only secondarily economic. He wants to convince us that capitalism's great merit is not that it makes us rich but that it allows us to be better people who live more complete and responsible lives."
"Yeah, because we can shop till we drop."
"No, because capitalism encourages us to strive and reach and make the most of ourselves. What's best about capitalism isn't its material benefits: 'It's the ability of the market to let us feel alive as a free people making our own choices as we go through life.' Roberts is determined to debunk the standard image of capitalism as an amoral war of each against all: 'Capitalism involves struggle, but it has an invisible heart beating at its core that transforms people's lives. If you give it the chance.' "
"Are you saying you liked this book?"
"I'm saying it's a bad novel but a good lecture," Frank said. He paused, thought, and added, "And it's sociologically interesting."
"Sam, the protagonist, is a total outcast. He has no social skills, and he knows it. He is so used to being regarded as a freak by his liberal colleagues and peers that he has given up fighting the image. Everything he sees on TV and in movies paints free-marketeers as cruel and villainous. At a dinner party, Laura's brother denounces him as a snake, a danger, and a heartless propagandist for corporations. Even his sister teases that there is something wrong with him, and Sam says that she's probably right. 'It comes from a lifetime of political incorrectness and coping with the smugness of the opposition,' he says. In his very first conversation with Laura, he says, 'If you had my views, you would be lonely and embattled, but you could take solace in being right.' "
"And that's interesting? Why?"
"Liberals think that free-marketeers are taking over the world, literally. But free-marketeers feel despised and rejected. They feel that, as the price for their intellectual and political successes in the past 20 years, they've been cursed and banished to outer social darkness by the liberal cultural elite. To judge from Roberts's book, they're more demoralized than they usually like to admit."
"The loneliness of the long-distance libertarian."
"Bingo. Couldn't have said it better if I'd scripted it."
"So," Enid said, "are you saying I should read this?"
"If you're interested in how the world looks in 2001 to what Roberts calls 'free-market romantics' like himself and any number of libertarian activists and intellectuals, you could do a lot worse."
"Maybe you should write a review," Enid said. "Do the fictional dialogue thing."
"Nah. You're right. Too hokey. No one would read it."