Friday, January 12, 2007

Unintended Consequences of Misattributions to Adam Smith

As if on cue, following my comments on Don Boudreaux’s unintended promotion of pagan superstition, I find in the Orlando Sentinel, 12 January, an excellent example of the scourge of the mystification of markets, wrapped with the usual nonsense about Smith’s alleged ‘invisible hand’, by John L. Evans Jr. (a former U.S. Senate staffer, and a vice president for an investment-management firm):

As a conservative, I hope he culls and sculpts that mysterious and awesome force that philosopher and economist Adam Smith called the "invisible hand" -- otherwise known as the magical ether of market force.”

Now, not for a moment do I compare Don Boudreaux’s mastery of economic theory with John Evans Jr (that would be, and is, a ‘no contest’) and neither do I intend to repeat my comments on Smith’s use of the metaphor of ‘an invisible hand’ (it was not original to Smith so hardly qualifies as being ‘his’; Shakespeare used it in Macbeth, 3.2 in 1605, Defoe used it twice in his books, 1722-1725, and numerous literary figures used it from Roman times too).

My point is I am not picking on Don (no disrespect!), so much as tweaking his attention to what I consider a problem of attribution, which has, typically, unintended consequences somewhat short of Hayek’s ‘spontaneous order’.


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