Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Missed Opportunity

MarcLord in Adored by Hordes (HERE)

What's That Got To Do With The Price Of Rice?’:

In fact we know from his diaries that Darwin was reading Adam Smith's treatise, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in 1839 while making notes for The Origin of Species. What I assail is compulsive focus on one particular aspect of Smith's observations and rank ignorance or denial of the rest; and that is precisely what the orthodoxy of the New School, Dr. Friedmanstein's economic monster, does. If Adam Smith were around today, he would be on CNN talking up man's instinctual curiosity, and forcefully arguing that free markets are just a myth. A useful myth, to be sure, but myth nonetheless--of course we require wise laws else we would be engulfed by slag heaps and puddles of mephitic filth like the ones he stepped round watching factories in Glasgow.”

”Smith had the Scotsman's love of thrift, and he would say of our bedazzled money-theorists: "What pleases these lovers of toys? How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility?"

I thought “MarcLord’s” article had promise, opening by referring to Darwin reading Moral Sentiments but then drowning in make-believe about Adam Smith on CNN and ‘stepping round’ pollution while visiting almost non-existent ‘factories in Glasgow’, then a ‘garden town’, with warehouses, a few tanneries, a couple of small chemical plants, shops and a busy harbour full of sailing ships.

The industrial pollution of the mid-19th century was decades away; coal mines, yes, but they were well outside towns, and the biggest iron works of the day was in the countryside near Falkirk (the famous Carron Works, owned by Dr Roebuck), some 20 miles away from Glasgow.

As for the alleged ‘love of thrift’ by Scotsmen – a national stereotype if ever there was one - reflecting the relative poverty of Scotland and the shortage of cash (which bedevilled the behaviour even of the wealthy). The Scottish banking system was fairly primitive while Adam Smith was alive, with banks issuing their own paper currency, vulnerable to ‘runs’, which produced a necessary caution among those able to either borrow from them or able to risk accepting their paper money.

On the ‘myth’ of free markets, I am inclined to agree, especially in Smith’s time under mercantile political economy. But the rest is doubtful and the article’s main purpose is a rant against US military involvements, of which I have no view.


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