Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Gregory Clark Debate Continues

Greg Clark replies:

On Adam Smith and modern economists
I accept Gavin Kennedy's comment that it was wrong to attribute to Smith the simplified version of his views that modern economists typically associate with Smith. I was just looking for a convenient shorthand for a set of views. "The Smithian vision" has in some sense become detached from Smith himself.
But on the substance I DO want to claim that Smith and others have a false picture of the past. Economic scholarship about, in particular, medieval England has advanced enormously in the past 50 years, and gives us a very different picture of early societies than was possible in earlier years. Smith could not have understood that there had been NO institutional improvement between 1200 and 1800.
In particular markets were much more developed than Tyler supposes in his critique. Grain markets by 1200-99, for example, seem to have been integrated nationally (see my web page, "Markets and Economic Growth? The Grain Market in Medieval England (2001))."


It’s not clear from Greg’s comment what he means by:

“Smith could not have understood that there had been NO institutional improvement between 1200 and 1800.”

Does Greg mean:

That Adam Smith a) did not realise that there had been institutional improvement between 1200 and 1800;

or b) that he could not argue (if he had seen the recent scholarship) that there had been none?

Smith’s Lectures On Jurisprudence (1762-63) were precisely about the institutional improvements in Britain from the changes in the feudal tenure system compared to the allodial (war lords) that preceded the feudal period.

He analysed in detail the changes from absolute to constitutional monarchy from the 15th century to the 18th century and the shift from taxation solely at the behest of the sovereign to taxation via the authority of parliament (England fought a civil war over the issue). These changes led to increased economic activities by the richer burgers in the towns in their reliable raising of taxation for the King's government.

In the Elizabethan period much was done by the monarchy to initiate various schemes to spread commerce into the country (see Joan Thirsk’s titles and Cunningham’s).

The shift from city guilds to spread quality and employments in the ‘trades’ led to a retrograde deadweight in the 18th century, which Smith discussed in great detail in Wealth Of Nations. These an many other changes were underway, mainly unnoticed long before 1800.

If Gregory is arguing that none of this mattered (no institutional change), I would need more evidence. Perhaps it will come from additional reading in his book, but I am following Tyler Cowen’s ordinance not to read ‘a head’.

If on the other hand, the institutional change was much greater than Smith appreciated then I will not find Greg's case as problematical as I do at present. I am referring to his case involving Smith’s writings, not to Greg’s general thesis, which I am not fully conversant with having read to chapter 9 only so far.

Incidentally, that:

"The Smithian vision" has in some sense become detached from Smith himself”
is no reason for Greg to attribute ideas to Smith from the Chicago Smith versions, which he never had. If the modern neoclassical version is wrongly attributed to Smith by name, then surely scholars are beholden not to treat such midespread misattributions lightly? At the bare minimum they should not link incorrect ideas to a person by name.

You should visit Marginal Revolution and follow the debate on Greg Clark's 'A Farewll to Arms' (Princeton University Press).


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