Friday, October 30, 2009

A New Slant on Adam Smith's Use of the Invisible Hand Metaphor

A New Slant on Adam Smith: must be read HERE

“In a Word or Two, Placed in the Middle: The Invisible Hand in Smith’s Tomes
by Daniel B. Klein and Brandon Lucas

"Abstract: The meaning and significance of Smith’s expression “led by an invisible hand” has been long debated, and especially lately. We speak to the large debate only in fine, by focusing on the conjecture, first hinted at by Peter Minowitz, that Smith deliberately placed his central idea, as represented by the phrase “led by an invisible hand,” at the physical center of his masterworks. We bring supportive evidence and argumentation to the conjecture. The four most significant points developed are as follows: (1) The expression “led by an invisible hand” occurs pretty much dead center of the 1st and 2nd editions of Wealth of Nations, and of the final edition of the volumes containing Theory of Moral Sentiments. (2) The expression in WN drifted only a bit from the center, only about 5 percent from the center in the final edition (and even less if the index is excluded). (3) The rhetoric lectures show that Smith not only was conscious of deliberate placement of potent words at the center, but thought it significant enough to remark on to his pupils, noting that Thucydides “often expresses all that he labours so much in a word or two, sometimes placed in the middle of the narration.” (4) There numerous and rich ways in which centrality and middle-ness hold special and positive significance in Smith’s thought. In conjunction with larger considerations, these points may be helpful in assessing the significance of Smith’s famous phrase."

Readers will know that Daniel Klein and I have been engaged in civilised debate in the pages of Econ Journal Watch (May and Sept) HERE, HERE and HERE
on the significance of Adam Smith’s use of the metaphor of “an invisible hand”.

Daniel has prepared a most interesting paper, which he believes supports, at least indirectly, his mainstream interpretation of the major significance of Smith’s use of the famous metaphor and its modern associations across the discipline. It is an original and careful piece of work and I hope many readers promote the link to it on their own Blogs.

I have read through the paper quickly and can commend it to you. It is worth reading. I shall review the arguments on Lost Legacy when I have studied it more carefully.



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