Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apologies to Stevie Joe, But He's Still Wrong About Adam Smith

A correspondent has taken me to task for what appears to be an apparent snub, or at least an act of discourtesy (unintentional I can assure all), in that I made a criticism of his views attributed to Adam Smith (2 July, Lost Legacy), to which he added a couple of comments and to which in return I did not respond. The correspondent in question was a Mr Stevie Joe, a self-proclaimed ‘genius’ who writes a Blog, Stevie Joe Parker’s guide to life (‘blazing a path to enlightenment, world peace, dependable government, and what not’) (here)

For some inexplicable reason, I did not respondat the time, for which I offer my unreserved apology, as I usually respond to all correspondents, without fear nor favour. As a lifetime-long educator, I suffer fools and geniuses in equal measure.

This came to my attention this very morning when checking emails and the trusty Google alert showed a piece referring to Adam Smith, and down came this one from Stevie Joe, which I did not recognise from before and which in equal measure perplexed me as I hadn’t clue the ‘good professor’ referred to me.

I copied it intact for study later and on seeing my house guests to the local rail station, en route to a day in Bordeaux, I returned from a long French lunch and read it again, this time noticing something familiar in one of its quotes and also that the ‘good professor’ was from Edinburgh. The author was referring to me! Temporarily in my French home (I return to Edinburgh next weekend), I quickly looked up the archives, found Stevie Joe’s earlier piece and the two unanswered comments. Quelle horreur!

That most modern economists have not actually read Adam Smith is sad, but a fact. That many of them attribute to Adam Smith that which he never said or wrote is a double sadness; it exposes them to criticism and exposes their ignorance to general disapprobation among those who have read Adam Smith.

Stevie Joe attempts to argue that this is analogous to the sayings of Jesus Christ, which came down from an oral not a written tradition, but, in general, probably bear some resemblance to what he actually preached. Maybe, maybe not. Brought up in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition and not the High Church of England or Rome, I reserve my opinions on the frugal simplicity of the Scotch churches compared to high and heavy rituals of the more prodigal of other churches among Christians.

However, the situation with Adam Smith is completely different. His works, Moral Sentiments, Wealth Of Nations, Lectures on Jurisprudence and various smaller essays and correspondence are available as they were written and edited by him. They are available at frugal prices intact and documented from Liberty Fund, Indianan, USA. While argument might be generated among biblical scholars about Christian sources, there can be none in the case of Adam Smith.

Anybody reading the archives of Lost Legacy would soon be aware that misattributions, made-up sources, and outright fiction is written about Adam Smith almost everyday somewhere in the world. So much so that several scholars, not just myself, demonstrate this sad fact by their detailed rebuttals of much of what modern economists claim about him and his Work. This has led some to differentiate a fictional figure, the Adam Smith created in Chicago, from the Adam Smith born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, in 1723.

Of Alan Greenspan’s many qualities I have nothing to say, but his familiarity with the Adam Smith from Kirkcaldy is not among those qualities. The Adam Smith he talks about originated in Chicago in the 20th century. There are so many entries on Lost Legacy describing the errors in Chicago Smith that Stevie Joe can sample them. If Stevie Joe believes in Chicago Smith after reading them, there is little I can do to help him, though I am always willing to answer serious questions, should he have any.


Blogger Stevie Joe Parker said...

Professor Kennedy,

I suppose it is a good thing that somebody is out there protecting the image and reputation of Adam Smith. It is important to maintain an accurate history. I applaud your efforts in doing so, and you appear to be doing an excellent job.

I am sorry that my use of Adam Smith's name and works has perpetuated an incorrect understanding of the man as this might obscure significant insights that readers may otherwise find in his writing. On the other hand, when viewed in a larger context, this slight is a relatively minor one. To those outside of the world of academia, the Chicago Smith is just as real as the Kirkcaldy Smith - perhaps more so.

Fellows such as Mr. Greenspan and Stevie Joe are forced to deal with the Chicago Smith even if the Chicago Smith is just a symbol of a type of free market capitalism that the Kirkcaldy Smith never espoused.

It would be more accurate to explicitly detail the economic philosophy in question than to use such short-hand but doing so would lack the impact of the image (accurate or not) of Adam Smith and his Invisible Hand.

In other matters, I am sure that the Chicago Smith enjoys better deep dish pizza and hot dogs, but the Kirkcaldy Smith likely has access to better ales down at the Robert Nairn (although I understand that the service is not so good).

Stevie Joe Parker

3:08 am  

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