Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Excellent Questions on Adam Smith's Thinking

Scott Beaulier reports on The Economic Way of Thinking HERE

A Night of Enlightenment”

“Jim Otteson's talk here at Mercer last week was titled "The Scottish Enlightenment on the Promise and Peril of Commercial Society." Jim gave us a wonderful overview of the Enlightenment (with particular emphasis on Adam Smith). According to Otteson, the promise of commercial society was material abundance and greater freedom of choice; Smith, the great empiricist, speculated about the causes of economic abundance, and, with hindsight, his conjectures appear to have been on the mark.

While I got to spend plenty of time with Jim while he was in town, there were still a number of questions I never got to ask him while he was in town

[Scott lists the questions he didn’t get to ask Jim, but does not appear to offer any suggested answers, which is a great pity as they are good questions and Jim Otteson is an excellent source for good answers]

The Questions:

“(1) As a philosopher and historian of economic thought, what does he (Otteson) think of the literature that says Adam Smith was no liberal (in the classical sense)?

Many respected historians of economic thought have painted a picture of Smith as someone other than Mr. Laissez Faire. Along with some recent and carefully thought through history of thought pieces, there's also Murray Rothbard's attack on Smith.

(2) In Otteson's Adam Smith's Marketplace of Life, the "Das Adam Smith Problem" is reconciled by saying a model of self-correction is present in both of Smith's major books, The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In fact, Otteson pushes the idea to say a market-like model is present in Smith's ideas about aesthetics and language, too.

While I find the Otteson argument persuasive, I worry about the mechanisms in the "market for morality." They are less clear than the signals sent by profit and loss in formal markets.

(3) Can you tell us a bit about ways Smith's friendship with Hume influenced Smith's views of economics, politics, and religion?

(4) What are we to make of Smith taking a job as commissioner of customs of Scotland late in his career?

(5) How much stock do you place in the happiness research results mentioned above and discussed in your presentation?

(6) What would Smith think about the economic imperialism (e.g., the law & economics revolution, the economics of the family, etc.) that has occurred in our discipline?”

If I hear any more about answers to these questions I shall post the link on Lost Legacy.

Failign that I shall post my answers to them, though I would prefer to read Jim's answers too.



Blogger Dorron Katzin said...

There is still an opportunity to pose these questions to Professor Otteson. He has a blog, which, I believe, lists his email address.

7:23 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Thanks 'dman' for the information.


8:56 am  

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