Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thomas Brewton's Brilliant One Sentence Summary of Adam Smith's Evolutionary Philosophy

Thomas E. Brewton writes a piece on the recent death of Jane Jacobs in Magic City Morning Star, Millinocket, Maine, USA 10 May:
‘Jane Jacobs and Adam Smith’:

The late Jane Jacobs was a voice of sanity against Big Brother's urban planning. She and Adam Smith were reading from the same page.

Jane Jacobs died recently at the age of 89. She ‘was most noted for her 1961 book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," which refuted the pretensions of liberal-progressive city planners.


In the works of both Jane Jacobs and Adam Smith, individualistic spontaneity, exercised incrementally, over many generations, is understood to be the wellspring of all of human society's effective and enduring institutions.”

Comment
This last paragraph is an excellent summary of Smith’s approach. Thomas Brewton adds:

Adam Smith's 1776 "Wealth of Nations" was the first comprehensive inquiry into the realities of economic activity. He observed in the records of thousands of years of history that social institutions bettering the human condition were spontaneous, trial-and-error affairs involving many thousands of individuals in disparate locations, most of whom were unaware of each other and of each other's intentions.

Comment
Smith took the long view of events. So should we all. That is why the recent discussion about the Fall of Rome on the Mises Blog is important. One commentator asked why the years after the fall of Rome are known as the Dark Ages – what else would you call a thousand years of social stagnation and barbarism?

But note the point that Thomas Brewton makes about the “spontaneous, trial-and-error affairs involving many thousands of individuals in disparate locations, most of whom were unaware of each other and of each other's intentions.” That exhibits as complete an understanding of Adam Smith’s philosophy as can be crammed into one sentence.

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