Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Oh No He Didn't!

Grand Forks Herald - Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA 10 April 2005

Weinstein to give presentation

Professor Jack Russell Weinstein will give a public report Monday entitled "Is Money All There Is?"

In his presentation, Weinstein will discuss what it means to be a whole person in a just society from Adam Smith's perspective. Smith, an architect of modern capitalism, introduced the free-market and the power and potential of capitalism to the world. Smith had envisioned the free-market as a catalyst for the cultivation of freedom, morality and social unity, as well as a tool to better the condition of all people.

Weinstein, of UND's Philosophy and Religion Department, is a Smith expert and wrote "On Adam Smith" in 2001.


“Smith, an architect of modern capitalism, introduced the free-market and the power and potential of capitalism to the world”

In one sentence Weinstein raises questions about his status as an ‘expert’ on Adam Smith (not that his error is unique because most of the economics profession in the US and elsewhere teaches and repeats the same error over and over again).
Smith, for the record, was no the ‘architect of modern capitalism’. Smith wrote in the mid-18th century and died before anything remotely akin to capitalism, modern or ancient, appeared on earth. Given this he could not have introduced the ‘power and potential of capitalism to the world’.

Smith’s ambitions for society were much more modest. He saw a gradual extension of commercial markets in Western Europe and expressed concerns at signs that countries were investing too much stock (what we now know as capital) in manufacturing and not enough in agricultural improvements.

His vision for the ex-American colonies (to which he was largely sympathetic) was that in 100 years (i.e., around 1880) it would become the premier agricultural power in the world. He did not foresee the immense technological advances of the 19th and 20th centuries that would transform relatively backward agricultural economies into industrial workshops and raise living standards by mass consumerism. Neither did anybody else among his scientific colleagues.

To keep asserting that he did is completely contrary to the facts, as a reading of his books would show to the half attentive reader, let alone ‘experts’ on his legacy.


Blogger Jack said...

I'm appreciative of the attention you afforded my lecture. May I say, first off, that it is probably not a good idea to assume that a speaker is going to use the words that the organization supplies in its advertisements. Publicity is designed to get people's interest and is often inaccurate or sensationalized.
I state, in my talk, in my book on Smith, and in quite a few other places, that Smith never uses the term Capitalism. It doesn't come about until the Nineteenth Century, and its first wide-spread use is in Max Weber's Book title The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. What Smith did do was be the first person to truly systematize a free-market political economy that lays the foundation for and eventually becomes capitalism.
I do not know whether you attended my lecture, but I tried very hard to be clear about the difference, and about the ways in which the contemporary understanding of capitalism misrepresents Adam Smith’s vision. This was, in fact, the very point of the discussion.
If you are interested, you can peruse some of my research here:
I hope to put the written supplements from that lecture series online soon.
For the record, I am not an economist, but rather a philosopher whose main interest is in the interaction between Smith moral theory and political economy,
Again, thanks for calling attention to my work.

8:54 pm  

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