Tim Harford Is Mistaken About Adam Smith in the 'Logic of Life'
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SLATE published (here) an excerpt from Tim Harford's new book, The Logic of Life, which is soon to be discussed on the Marginal Revolution Blog. I have my copy on order but I came across this excerpt and found this:
“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.”
My question to the Undercover Economist is simple. ‘On what do you base your assertion that Adam Smith never visited a pin factory?’
You must have some evidence. It is important that you have such evidence because it will have to be reconciled with the following extract of Adam Smith from Wealth Of Nations:
“I have seen a small manufactory of this kind [the famous pin factory of 18 labourers from Diderot’s Enclyclopaedia on the same page] where ten only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations.” (WN I.i.3: 15)
So, you see my problem, Tim Harford, either you have outstanding evidence that Adam Smith was lying or you are mistaken. You would also have to make a strong guess as to why he would lie about such a matter.
We know there were nail manufactories close by his mother’s house in Kirkcaldy, Fife, any one of which could have had a small workshop attached that specialized in pins, and was distinguished from the ‘18 operations’ in Diderot in France ('25' according to Murray Rothbard in 'England') by the precise number of “10” labourer’s in Fife, Scotland, some of them doing ‘two or three operations’.
Anybody who might have an explanation for Tim Harford’s extraordinary statement of Smith’s alleged dishonesty is welcome to provide details.
However, if you look in the Lost Legacy Archives for January 2006 (click on right-margin buttons), you will find six posts from me on Murray Rothbard’s myths about Adam Smith, including the allegation about him never visiting a pin factory (is this the source relied on by Tim Harford?).
The most striking feature upon which I comment is Rothbard’s apparent confusion about the arithmetical details (frankly, he becomes muddled) and I have regarded him ever since as a suspicious source for anything authoritative about Adam Smith.
I hope that the usually excellent Tim Harford does not rely on Rothbard for his assertions about Adam Smith.