Saturday, July 05, 2008

Excellent Summary of Adam Smith's Considered Views

Ligneus on his Blog, Road Sassy (“Dedicated to the fight against Islam and Progressives - Members of Either Are Candidates for Road Kill Here”) quotes from the The National Post an article by Peter Foster, ‘The genius of Adam Smith’, on the unveiling of the statue of Adam Smith:

At long last Adam Smith, whose insights are still too rarely grasped more than 200 years after his death, will receive a fitting memorial.

July 4th is appropriate for such a tribute, as is the fact that Smith’s towering statue (pictured below) is being unveiled by an American. Not only was Smith’s great book, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, the year of American Independence, but he had great sympathy with the colonists’ revolutionary cause. Smith had been a professor at Glasgow University when that city was booming from trade with the Americas, but he had realized that much of Glasgow’s wealth came from restrictions on what the colonies could produce for themselves. He also pointed out that the military costs involved in controlling colonies as part of a “mercantilist” system were greater than the benefits. He favoured a free trade relationship and even political union with North America, which he predicted would one day rise to become a greater power than Britain.

One oft-repeated criticism of Smith is that his insights could not possibly apply to a world of supermarkets and giant corporations, of automobiles and air travel, of global financial institutions and the Internet, of alleged resource depletion and worsening pollution. But despite the fact that politicians and activists persist in biting the Invisible Hand, it continues its remarkable work. More fundamentally, Smith’s insights remain valid because he was not merely a supporter of markets and a critic of overweening governments, but also a student of human nature. Indeed, Vernon Smith has pointed out that Adam Smith should also perhaps be known as the “father of psychology.”

Some have seen a fundamental contradiction between Smith’s two books, but the notion that one must choose between humans as either self-interested or sympathetic is ridiculous. Smith painted humans as complex and often internally conflicted creatures whose prudence, benevolence and ingenuity is nevertheless best encouraged in a free and open society with minimal government, clear laws and strong external defences…

Among Smith’s philosophical works is a treatise on astronomy that notes that scientific theories are designed to cater to our desire for explanations, and are always and inevitably provisional. He would thus treat claims that science of climate change was “settled” with the greatest suspicion, particularly since they come accompanied by calls for draconian government action

An excellent account of the importance of Adam Smith that is close to his true role in modern thinking and in stark contrast to the usual version of Smith’s work and context.

You should read it in full (HERE).

I have some critical comments but shall leave them unsaid because Peter Foster's article is almost as accurate as can be constructed. (I take no responsibility for the Blog site’s targets for ‘road kill’; neither Peter Foster, the author of the excellent article, nor The National Post bear responsibility for a Blog author’s idiosyncrasies).


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