Thursday, August 02, 2007

Smith A Narrow Specialist? Don't Be Daft.

Chris Heuer Redux’ in the Buzz Bin by Geoff Livingston (2 August) writes here:

What I tried to get across to people was that this leads to holistic opportunities, and of course, you say a word like holistic and everyone starts thinking crystals and new age and all that fun stuff, but I mean thinking of things as a whole. It’s very hard in an Adam Smith world, where it’s all about specialization of labor, and, and expertise and what-have-you, to find generalists who can really understand the different parts of a system, and think about that as a whole.”

I think Chris Heuer is taking a very unSmithian view of Adam Smith’s writings to consider them as less than ‘holistic’. It is a narrow view to see his ‘world’ as being solely “about specialization of labor, and compartmentalized departments, and expertise and what-have-you”. Seems to be an impression that Chris has gleaned from a quotation approach to Wealth Of Nations and not from an actual reading of his works.

Smith’s so-called ‘compartmentalized departments’ covers his writings, I presume, such as Moral Sentiments, Lectures in Jurisprudence, History of Astronomy, Lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, Considerations Concerning the First Formation of Languages and various articles on literature, Italian poetry, ancient physics, and, la piece de resistance, and essay, criticising Dr Johnson, on the words, ‘but’and ‘humour’.

If any economist wrote so authoritatively as Adam Smith on such a wide range of subjects in the past two hundred and more years, I would be most surprised to be informed about him or her. Even taking his Wealth Of Nations alone, a common criticism of him is the high number of ‘diversions’, ‘excruciating details’, and ‘repetitions’ from different angles’.

If anybody understood ‘the different parts of a system, and think about that as a whole’ it was Adam Smith. Recast your net, Chris.


As originally posted I attributed the quoted remarks to Geoff Livingston of Buzz Bin and received a correction from one of his colleagues. I am happy to correct my error and to apologise - to be loaded with the failings of somebody else is an awesome burden too far. Sorry Geoff.


Blogger Andrea said...

Hi Gavin,

Geoff is currently enjoying digital vacation in Canada this week. On his behalf, thanks for engaging a conversation.

Just to clarify, the quote was from Chris Heuer - Geoff was the interviewer.


Andrea Morris
Contributing Author - The Buzz Bin

11:37 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Hi Andrea

Gross apologies to Geoff. Mistaken identity is the worst event in someone's life.

We arer responsible for our own failings, but someobody else's are a burden too far.

I shall post a correction today.

6:54 am  

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