Friday, July 10, 2009

Interesting Reading List and a Surprising Exclusion

Mark Blyth, Professor of International Political Economy
at Brown University writes in Chicobilly and Other Stories HERE:


Summary -- An annotated Foreign Affairs syllabus on states and markets.

“As governments around the world have responded to the global economic crisis, questions about the appropriate relationships between states and markets are once again a matter of intense public and policy debate. As the discussion proceeds, the subject's long history is worth bearing in mind. The canonical authors one might think to start with --Adam Smith and Karl Marx -- are not actually all that helpful. Smith's writings on the state should be read against his indictment of the mercantilist system, not in relation to the modern world, and Marx's writings on the state, despite some notable epigrams, are also not particularly relevant to the contemporary era

Smith's writings on the state should be read against his indictment of the mercantilist system, not in relation to the modern world” is almost correct in so far as it rises beyond the modern (pathetic) assertion that because Adam Smith was severely critical of how 16-18th century government interventions that imposed mercantile policies on behalf of small private monopolies (originally with the best of intentions but soon corrupted by their anti-competitive behaviours), it followed, argued the epigones, that all state interventions were bad, for which they claimed Adam Smith said so. He didn't.

Hence, the myth of the ‘night-watchman state’ became a shibboleth of modern proponents of modern laissez-faire economics.

Ironically, the actual phrase, ‘night watchman state’, indulged in by some over-enthusiastic propagandists of what they call laissez-faire, was a popular utterance of the 19th-century firebrand socialist, Ferdinand Lasselle, when mocking market-minded politicians for not establishing the strongest possible (socialist) state imaginable.

A reading of Wealth Of Nations (Books II, IV and V) shows that Smith's, often biting, criticisms of mercantile state policies did not preclude appropriate roles for a state (predicated on Liberty and Justice), or, as we might put it, ‘markets where possible, state interventions where necessary’).

Follow the link to read Mark Blyth’s recommended reading list – not quite what I would have selected. Also, given that the mercantile state is still with us in many respects, I would think Wealth Of Nations would be an admirable choice too.



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