Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Adam Smith Did Not 'Invent' Capitalism


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Natasha Chart writes in Sustainable Food (HERE)
Natasha Chart writes in Sustainable Food (HERE)

‘Market Consolidation and Anti-Trust’

“It would have disgusted Adam Smith, the moral philosopher who invented capitalism, to see such powerful monopolies still running the show and claiming to be following the system he proposed to rid the world of mercantilism and all-powerful guilds.

Comment
We know what Natasha means but, for the record, Adam Smith did not ‘invent capitalism’.

The word itself was unknown in English until 1854 (Oxford English Dictionary) and Smith died in 1790. Smith wrote about ‘commercial society’, as practised in mid-18th century.

Moreover, societies are not ‘invented’ by anyone. They evolve of their own volition from the unintended consequences of the actions of individuals over long time periods. Attempts to ‘invent’ societies always fail (e.g., Marxist , socialist and other ‘utopias’, as, nowadays calls for a complete legislative change from modern capitalism to independent, local, entities), and end up with tyrannies unanticipated by their idealistic initiators.

Adam Smith was a philosopher who ‘did nothing, but observed everything’.

He was a fairly severe critic of the existing commercial arrangements of Britain, but also a very moderate realist about the prospects for major legislative changes in the near future. He believed tariff changes would only work if introduced slowly and gradually because of their disruptive consequences for the labourers affected by unemployment, and for the lack of will among legislators and those who influenced them, for example.

He did, however, propose the repeal of the mercantile Acts of the British Parliament, especially those pertaining to the ‘all-powerful guilds’, the Settlement Acts (preventing labourers leaving their parish to look for work in other parishes), the Apprenticeship Acts (preventing skilled and semi-skilled labourers from exercising their skills in places other than where the served their 7-years as apprentices, and preventing the easier spread of new technologies in 'apprentised trades'), and the legislative abuses of the Acts of Navigation (he agreed with the Act in principle when limited to ensuring that Britain had enough seamen and ships to defend it island from naval attack, but thought the all-embracing monopoly of the colonial trade (with North America and the Caribbean) was detrimental to Britain’s (and the colonists’) interests (see Book IV, Wealth Of Nations)

In the event, some of these changes were not affected until the mid (the Navigation Acts) and late 19th century (universal education provisions).

But, of Adam Smith ‘inventing’ capitalism, there is no evidence whatsoever. That he would see modern society as essentially unchanged from 18th century mercantile political economy that he knew so well (timid steps to free-trade in the major economies, like the US and Europe; predominant popular views associated with ‘jealousies of trade’ and beggar-thy-neighbour' popular policies; wars not for defence and often for indeterminate ends; and the dominant practises of local monopolies, etc.,) I do not agree with Natasha that he would be 'disgusted', or even surprised.

Smith well understood the foibles of people, especially in government and the legislatures. In probably the only prediction he ever made - the future supremacy of the USA's economy over all others by the late 19th century - he would feel vindicated
But 'disgusted' - I don't think so.

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16 Comments:

Blogger curiouscat said...

Great blog, keep it up. I agree it is likely Adam Smith would not be surprised by the current system. But I am not sure he would not be disgusted. You can both be a realist and understand human beings can do some very bad things and not be surprised that they do but still be disgusted.

I think at the very least he would find the behavior prevalent as morally repugnant. Now he may have had such low expectations that the moral failings of so many powerful people would not disgust him. But I think it is at least arguable that it would.

Certainly he understood what the powerful would try to get away with. But he held them morally accountable for their actions something few do today.

I do think the moral corruption of the powerful today is disgusting. But I am not surprised.

2:46 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Hi curiouscat

From what he wrote about the foibles and repugnant behaviour of some 'rulers of mankind', I think he had long since ceased to be 'disgusted'. He was a philosopher and seemed to recognise human badness wherever he found it.

This in no way means a considered their badness of trifle interest. In TMS he considered 'man was an accountable being' (1st edition, then dropped). The very pooor around him - in 18th century Edinburgh, the very rich and the very poor lived in close proximity - and there is no doubt where his sympathy lay.

There was unlikely to be justice accorded to the sordid beings for their wrongdoings. He wrote what he saw and put his faith in the liberating consequence of the gradual spread of opulence.

It is right that you feel disgusted on moral grounds - I do too, but Smith was realistic as a philosopher. I think he would 'recognise', almost without surprise, our modern examples; he had the awful example of the East India Company in mind, plus the 'jail refuse' who ran the slave trade.

Thanks for your comments.

Gavin

3:16 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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11:12 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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台北搬家公司提供中和搬家桃園搬家板橋搬家等為主的搬家服務,為政府立案合法經營之精緻搬家公司。若您有台北搬家桃園搬家需求可電洽搬家公司搬家公司就會派專人到您府上,確立搬家物品數量及種類進行免費估價,提供最合適的搬家服務方式及報價,並簽訂專業搬家契約書,保障消費者權益,提供免費搬家包裝、衣箱、膠帶等包裝材料供您整理打包使用。好的搬家公司會秉持一貫優良搬家服務態度,誠實收費,絕不額外亂加價,另提供有回頭車台北搬家打包服務。

11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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選擇正規的室內裝潢公司,質量有保證,有些人認為凡事親力親為就可以節省很多開支,然而搭上無數時間後,房子的室內裝潢效果卻不盡如人意,如果業主有一定經濟能力進行較高檔次的室內裝潢,專家認為最好還是選擇正規的室內設計公司為宜。因為專業的室內設計師在施工上有經驗,做工有保證外,由於他們經常大批量選材,質量穩定且價格相對較低,一次重大的室內設計裝潢工程,會因為這樣的花費,而有高品質的成果,相對而言,反而降低成本。OA辦公家具的設計亦然。

11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

芙蝶創意婚禮企劃備有專業婚禮顧問外,還提供海外婚禮服務,給結婚的準新人最貼心的服務。

11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

不景氣,產婦的月子還是得坐,所以坊間出現了「到府坐月子」的服務,專業保母直接登門造訪到府服務,不但幫產婦坐月子,還幫忙買菜、做坐月子餐、帶小孩、做家事,有點像是幫傭一樣,深受職業婦女歡迎。

11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

團體服領域獲得成就的設計大師,都是靠深厚的功夫底子,施展他們出色的團體制服設計才華,所以若想學好團體制服設計,就必須要多接觸相關的藝術。

11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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11:13 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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11:14 am  
Blogger GINA said...

網頁設計虛擬主機是成立一個網站前要做的。

11:14 am  
Blogger GINA said...

正大會計師事務所提供企業教育訓練服務,由專業的會計師給多專業的指導。

11:14 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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11:14 am  
Blogger GINA said...

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11:14 am  

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