Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dreaming Can Be Dangerous

Joe Campbell writes an intelligent Blog, 2parse (HERE):

He has hit on something quite important. He has come up against a discontinuity in one of histories certainties: Adam Smith’s ideas, as taught by academia, are quite wrong. There is a lot missing in the modern image of Adam Smith and what he was about.

Smith did not speak of capitalism because the word was not yet invented in English; in 1854 William Thackeray used the word, capitalism, for the first time in English in his novel, The Newcomes (Oxford English Dictionary).

Joe offers his “modest proposal for the day:

Tear down our capitalist system and replace it with a free market.”

“The two terms are usually used synonymously – and I’m sure I am guilty of this myself. But after a long night of fevered dreams about politics and policy … I woke up realizing there is an important difference between the two ideas. (Perhaps as my unconscious mind dredged up some forgotten piece of writing from years ago.)

“The free market is a commonsensical idea – as it is based on the values of competition, individual opportunity, and liberty. Adam Smith (from what I know of him) was only a proponent of this system – which he called “the system of natural liberty” – rather than a proponent of “capitalism” – a term he never actually used. Smith – arguing for this system – argued against government being used to prop up industries or to direct them. What he did not argue for though was “capitalism” as it has been understood for the past century. In many ways, the idea of capitalism evolved to defend our system from Marxist ideas – so it evolved to preserve the status quo rather than to describe an ideal system.

“… Our economic system though was created in an ad-hoc manner – and the ideology which grew up to defend it lacked any clear ideals. So, this ideology was defined then by what it opposed rather than a positive protection of certain principles. Capitalism then means less government interference, less centralized control of the means of production, less regulation. What this capitalism has created though is a rather unfree market – in which a small number of individuals own most of the capital – in which competition is thwarted by monopolistic practices, by bigger and bigger mega-corporations, by regulations proposed by the mega-corporations to keep out competitors, by bailouts.

Our capitalist system is based on valuing capital over labor, of separating mangement and labor from ownership, of limiting the liability of individuals for their actions in corporate environments, of externalizing as much cost as possible to the public commons, of profit over all things. It is hard to see what most of these principles contribute to the creation of a free market. Indeed, many of them undermine it – creating a closed market, profitable only for a princely few who have the capital
.”

Comment
Much of Joe’s thinking is well motivated but he is confused because he advocates root and branch transformation in a long-established socio-economic system, and that isn’t going to happen.

The sheer impracticality of it is breathtaking.

What do several billion people do while the transformation is agreed, let alone undertaken, should the very remote possibility of securing agreement happens?

What will those who believe they may lose from the transformation do about what they see as a bleak prospect? Would the political system remain neutral? Who has got the deepest pockets?

For these reasons I think a reminder of Adam Smith’s philosophical stance – do nothing but observe everything – is in order. Start with the stability of the society and propose practical changes that will slowly and gradually take affect without de-stabilising justice and society’s good order. Try to change your corner of the world oveer time but not the whole world in one go.

Also, avoid sleeping on rich food or strong drink, and don’t take seriously anything you remember about ‘a long night of fevered dreams’, no matter who she or he is.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Don said...

"Start with the stability of the society and propose practical changes that will slowly and gradually take affect without de-stabilising justice and society’s good order. Try to change your corner of the world oveer time but not the whole world in one go."

I take this to be Burke's view as well.

Don the libertarian Democrat

8:52 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Don

I always considered it an admonmition from Smith, if not saidexactly by him, it is heavily implied in his approach.

Now if Burke also said something similar (I am not that familiar with his works) then all well and good.

Iknow they got on well over th years (He visited Smith at Panmure House after his (Burke's) instllation as Rector at Glasgow University), joined by other member sof the Enlightenment.

9:13 am  

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