Sunday, March 11, 2007

Waste of a Good Teacher?

I was looking at YouTube videos on economics and came across “Principles of Economics: Origins of the Discipline”, Video Edition, by ‘Dark Wraith’, also known as Professor Wraith, who specializes in economics, computers and English.

The professor’s teaching style is enthusiastic and clear, which on studies undertaken by colleagues at Heriot-Watt University of what makes for a good teacher scored highly with students. I used to try to emulate this when I taught regularly, so I appreciated Professor Wraith’s style.

However (or ‘But’, if you like), Professor Wraith’s subject of the three lectures on YouTube included his take on Adam Smith, which, well, how shall I put it? – was less than excellent, even less than passable.

No; why should I hold back? It was absolutely bloody awful.

I’ll give you an instance – it won’t take long.

Professor Wraith explained Adam Smith on the grounds that he advocated/described the motivations of a baker considering opening a rival bakery as being driven by ‘greed’. I know, tiresome isn’t it?

Did Professor Wraith learn his economics from repeat watching ‘Wall Street’ and Geko’s speech? He certainly did not learn them from Smith’s Wealth Of Nations. He mentioned Smith’s ‘Moral Sentiments’ (though he said it was published in ‘1758’ when it was 1759; he also called it a ‘Treatise’, which was news to me at least), but must have missed the sections denouncing the idea that ‘greed’ was a motivator in the manner Professor Wraith felt obliged to link to the same Adam Smith.

The notion of the role of greed in like manner came from Bernard Mandeville in ‘The Fable of the Bees’ (1724), not Smith, which Smith criticised several times in Moral Sentiments. In Wealth Of Nations, Smith provides an entirely different explanation of what motivates people like the baker (including the butchers and brewers), which is also consistent with what he wrote in Moral Sentiments.

He advised consumers to address the self interests of the sellers of goods that they want to buy and not their own self-interests. Have a look at the passage in Book I, chapter ii, pp 26-7 (Wealth of Nations), and just in case you are misled by the fallacious Das Adam Smith Problem, I also refer you to his Lectures in Jurisprudence, delivered in 1762-63, where you will find the same words used in the same context.

I do not know where Professor Wraith teaches. He did mention something about the ‘State University of Illinois’ and that of course brings him close to Chicago University and the home of the ‘Chicago Adam Smith’, a wholly made-up image who had little to do with the Adam Smith from Kirkcaldy.

Anyway, watch the videos for yourself at:

and form your own judgement. I only feel sorry for his students if they buy what they hear and don’t read the references for themselves. On the other hand, students who don't check their teachers' references are unlikely to become excellent teachers.


Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...


3:39 pm  

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