Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Misuse of a Quotation from Wealth Of Nations

Michael Dawson writes in Dissident Voice ('a radical alternative in the struggle for peace and social justice’ (HERE):

“We’re no. 28”

Does the flagship of big business society really prove the truth of Adam Smith’s famous claim that

by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, [the capitalist] intends only his [or her] own gain, and he [or she] is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his [or her] own interest he [or she]…promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

For those actually willing to investigate and answer this question, the evidence is clear: Check out Mercer Consultants’ 2008 quality of life and personal safety survey results.

Mercer, which describes itself as “a global leader for trusted HR and related financial advice, products and services” that “has more than 18,000 employees serving clients in over 180 cities and 40 countries and territories worldwide,” finds that the top US city in its quality-of-life index is:
Honolulu, ranked #28”

Comment
I have not comment on the politics espoused by Dissident Voice (I only comment on the politics of the country I vote in, which is Scotland, UK).

However, I have an opinion on the misuse of a quotation from Adam Smith's, Wealth of Nations, which you will find at: WN IV.ii.9: p 456. I quote it accurately below:

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.

Note the unnecessary and misleading insertions of the words: ‘the capitalist’; ‘or her’, ‘or she’, and that ‘he or she’ missed one in the last part of a sentence.

Inserting the word ‘capitalist’, a word not invented in English until 1854 (Oxford English Dictionary), when it appeared in Makepeace Thackery’s novel, The Newcomes (Smith died in 1790), is discreditable when giving the impression that Adam Smith was commenting on an economic system called capitalism when he patently was not. I call this ‘rent a quote’.

Moreover Smith was not talking about an economic system or even a market. He was discussing a behaviour associated with risk avoidance on the part of some merchants who preferred the home trade to foreign trade with the British colonies in North America, which no longer existed after 1783, when the British colonists forced the surrender of the British army, and the country went on to become the United States.

I would also observe that the authors of Dissident Voice appear to live in California, one of the richest places on Earth, and to which millions, not to say billions, would be delighted to move to from where they are to avoid starvation, disease, and a quality of life far removed from the heady delights of California.

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