Friday, January 18, 2008

Denise Soong Repeats Tim Harford's Assertion About Adam Smith

Denise Soong (life is ironic’) here, wrtitng about ‘Divorce is Good for Women’.

She posts the excerpt from Tim Harford’s book, The Logic of Life and taken from Slate, which I commented upon critically in Lost Legacy yesterday.

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, traveled Europe as tutor to the Duke of Buccleugh. But despite his travels, Adam Smith never actually visited a pin factory. While sitting at home in Kirkcaldy and penning the most famous passage in economics, he was inspired by an entry in an encyclopedia. The passage is no less important for that.”

It’s more important that Denise Soong realise that the assertion she has passed on innocently, I am sure, about Adam Smith not visiting a pin factor is false.

A correspondent writes to me privately to report that Tim Harford (whom he knows) responded to news of my challenge to him to provide evidence for his accusation that Smith did not visit the pin factory he said he had visited (mentioned specifically in Wealth Of Nations WN I.i: page 15), that he took it from a book by James Buchan: Adam Smith and the Pursuit of Perfect Liberty (Profile Books, London, 2006).

Now I reviewed James Buchan’s book in April 2006 and then the paperback in June 2007. Here is what I said:

James Buchan's New Book on Adam Smith is Excellent Value
Profile Books, London, has published the paperback edition of James Buchan’s, Adam Smith and the pursuit of perfect liberty, first published in hardback in 2006. I said then (April 2006) and I say again that James Buchan’s book is:

“An excellent and authoritative read, it is an excellent route into Adam Smith, absent specialist jargon, and, as far as I can discern on a first reading, absent any of the grosser errors associated with Adam Smith and his legacy

Now that is a hostage to fortune! No ‘grosser errors’…

I did not notice anything about Adam Smith not visiting a pin factory and unless Tim Harford comes up with a reference I not inclined to admit to an error.

However, given that Tim Harford has received the exact reference in Wealth Of Nations from me via my correspondent, he is beholden to accept that his statement is in error, and undertake to correct it at the next printing.

That is what scholars, journalists, and pundits do, when acquainted with errors.


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