Thursday, August 14, 2008

Putting Chicago's 'Adam Smith' (not the one born in Kirkcaldy) to Ill Use

Combine a shallow knowledge of Adam Smith, his moral philosophy and his political economy, with a self-interested response to a perceived world crisis that is recipe for a totalitarian state that may be worse than the perceived problem, though it would create decades – possibly centuries – of sustainable work for, er, architects… unless, of course, it all ends in tears.

John Van Doren (architect) writes a literate Blog, The Sustainable Home, HERE:

So where does he get his image of the way the world works?

In 1776, Adam Smith made some ground breaking observations about economic behavior and published An Inquiry into the Nature of Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith would argue that individuals, working in unfettered freedom for their own self interest, would collectively and via an “invisible hand” provide for the greatest common good. His work would provide the foundation for much of today’s economic theory and would father the concept of the “free market”.

Adam’s work coincided with the birth our nation, and it is ironic, but not surprising that this Scottish moral philosopher, would become the patron saint of Wall Street. For many, the belief in the invisible hand of an unfettered free market would take on religious overtones and it would become the dominant sub-text in our American political discourse.”

“…However, free markets and their invisible hand are blind to these limits and will continue to grow out of self interest until the invisible hand of the underlying ecosystem adjusts out of its own self interest.”

Who said that modern economists and their fantasies about Adam Smith are only innocently mistaken? They are responsible for no doubt the well meaning John van Doren who believes his false views about what Adam Smith said (yet John can read Smith’s books for himself – they are available for a few dollars from the likes of Amazon, or for my account of his views, Adam Smith: a moral philosopher and his political economy, it is also available from the same source, er, for a few dollars more).

John gets his ideas about Adam Smith from 20th-century Chicago-trained economists not from Adam Smith’s books.

Chicago teaches his alleged laissez-faire advocacy not from Smith - he never used the words - and similarly, the alleged ‘invisible hand’ was a metaphor that he used only once in Wealth Of Nations to describe the consequences of risk avoidance among merchants contemplating engaging in foreign trade. His sole reference in Book IV of Wealth Of Nations was nowhere near his account of markets in Books I and II. And the religious connotations came from mid-20th century epigones, not Smith.

That John stretches the famous metaphor from it being invisible to it also being ‘blind’ is almost laughable, though sad.

I shall say nothing about John’s remedies for what he sees as unsustainable economics. They are just so, well totalitarian, almost a brief ‘treatment’ that could sell a Hollywood film script (well, he does live in Los Angeles) for a disaster movie, complete with sinister, all powerful government – perhaps a plot for another series of 24?

On the other hand they could be a PR piece for his being hired as an architect to design one of his utopian ‘villages’ to give him a ‘sustainable’ life style.

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