Friday, August 11, 2006

All Quiet on the Adam Smith Front

All is quiet today on the Adam Smith front, judging by the absence – near total – of ‘Alerts’ sent to me since yesterday afternoon. Those few that did arrive were variously for sportsmen of the same name whose exploits were recorded in the press somewhere around the world, and, of course, for Congressman Adam Smith, whose voting record on free trade seems to be well short of his namesake’s preferences.

However, I have not been entirely idle, in fact not idle at all. I have been compiling an examination in Strategic Negotiation, plus solutions, for my former day job, a task I agreed to continue until end of 2007.

Besides that, I continue to work on my book, Adam Smith, for Palgrave’s 28-volume "Great Thinkers in Economics" series, due to commence publication in 2007. Currently, I am focussing on Smith’s critique of mercantile policies (Book IV, with snippets in Book V too). Smith, incidentally, never used the word ‘mercantilism’ much used today and attached to his name.

Scholars noticed Book IV’s difference in tone from the rest of Wealth of Nations and they advanced various ideas and explanations for why he did this. I am working through an explanation too. It includes a fascinating eight chapters – er, Smith’s critique, not my explanation! - which, by two pages, inclusive of editorial footnotes are the longest in Wealth of Nations, accounting for a quarter of the 2 volumes. Yet it receives the least amount of comment and analysis by modern scholars (or from most 19th century scholars too).

Amazingly, Book IV contains the infamous misattribution in respect of the invisible hand (p 456) and covers his comments on the ‘recent disturbances’ in the American colonies. Yet, apart from the quotation, wrenched out of context and turned into a ‘theory of markets’ by our Chicago friends, little is known or said about the rest of the eight chapters, the last one written in 1782-4 for the revised 3rd edition, when he was regularly consulted on the colonies in London by government ministers (they ignored his advice – politely; as ever when war drums beat and defeat looms, it is no time to expect politicians to compromise).

Well, that is my present task on the Adam Smith front, which with the last essay plus solutions for the MSc examination, will be my work for the next few days (apart for attending a neighbour’s party tonight, plus some food and a few glasses of orange juice, me being ‘on the wagon’ at present).


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