Friday, August 03, 2007

Leave Adam Smith Out of It - OK?

I don’t usually get involved in other country’s elections unless somebody drags Adam Smith’s legacy into them, and I noticed ex-Governor Romney taking a pop, as he is entitled, at Hilary Clinton, a feisty lady who can look after herself, dish it out as well as take it, and general brightens up a lack-lustre political season (love her or not, she does and will make a difference).

Somebody called McBlogger at McBlogger ‘low calorie but still full of flavour’, 2 August, posts a piece of fighting talk here:
Romney on the Rampage’, which includes this strange statement from Mr Romney (can he take it as well as dish it?):

"Hillary Clinton just gave a speech the other day about her view on the economy. She said we have been an on-your-own society. She said it's time to get rid of that and replace that with shared responsibility and we're-in-it-together society," Romney told the crowd. "That's out with Adam Smith and in with Karl Marx."

To which, McBlogger responds: “Mitt, we ARE in it together. Adam Smith was never about EVERYTHING for me and NOTHING for you. Capitalism is about balance and the goals (an equitable distribution of wealth) are not that different than those of Marxism. It's the mechanism of the distribution (the market vs. the state) that's different. Only stupid private equity people would be unable to get that. What WAS it you did before you went into politics, Mitt?”

Well, McBlogger’s contribution is fine for the political hustings. From Lost Legacy’s point of view, I would make a broader point about ‘an on-your-own’ society in Smith’s thinking.

The essence of a commercial economy (Smith did not write about capitalism, a 19th-century phenonomenon) is the total dependence of everybody on everybody else. The truly ‘on-your-own’ society was common in the age of hunter-gatherers, the first age of humankind, and which at one time in the distant past was common all over the world or, as John Locke put it when discussing the tribal hunter-gatherer societies found in North America and written about by travellers from Europe, in the beginning ‘all the world was America’.

The division of labour and the propensity to ‘trade, barter, and exchange’ changed all that, first in Europe and then throughout the world, especially in modern day North America. I’m surprised that ‘Mitt’ didn’t seem to understand this when taking a pop at ‘Hilary’ (I’ve never met and been introduced to either of them, but informality is a way of life in the USA, I understand).

Romney (I’ll revert to surnames as I feel more comfortable that way) confuses the total and absolute dependence, we all share, on each other in our personal freedom to choose in a complex capitalist society, with a Marxian nightmare that everything would be collectivised and we would all become dependent, not on each other, but on the communist state, which is a wholly different ‘kettle of fish’.

Smith is the dependent individualist and Marx was the dependent collectivist. Rating Hilary Clinton as a Marxist is ridiculous; she is a sort of, though I suspect not quite, Smithian individualist who has chosen to take account of her individual responsibilities towards others in the expectation that they will act responsibly too. If Mitt Romney doesn’t agree with her on this then why on Earth is he running for President?

Is he just in it for himself? Does he want all Americans to turn their backs of their neighbours, to focus only on themselves, to personify the ‘greed is good’ mental deficiencies of the ultimate expression of the selfish? Is he so desperate for individual power that he has to smear Hilary Clinton with the ultimate no-no of American politics?

Well, fine, Mitt, you choose your destiny, but just leave Adam Smith out of it. OK?


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