Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where a Little Knowledge can be Misleading

Paul F. Hosman resides in Kalamazoo and writes for “Read & React” in the Kalamazoo Gazzete ("A blog to create conversation between the Kalamazoo Gazette and its readers) (HERE):

“Intelligence, beauty and skill favor select segments of society over the welfare of all people”

“Maybe we as a nation need to accept the proven fact that Adam Smith was wrong when he stated that the optimum in society occurs when everybody works in their own best interests, and accept John Nash’s Nobel prize winning dissertation in economics that states that society works best when we work in our own best interests and in the best interests of society as a whole

The trouble is for this argument, Adam Smith did not say everybody should work (with whom?) in ‘their own best interest’. That is a crude, narrow and incorrect representation of his philosophy (and economics).

Nor did John Nash state that “an economy works best when we work in our own best interests and in the interests of society as a whole”. That is a crude, partial, and misleading statement of his work.

Where did Paul F. Hosman, residing in Kalamazoo (I remember the song), get his ideas about Smith and Nash from? Could it be the Hollywood film, “A Beautiful Mind”?

From the rest of his post he seems to be hooked up on a crude DNA theory that some are rich and some are poor because of their inherited DNA profile giving them, or not, as the case may be, “Intelligence, beauty and skill”.

I take it from this “evidence” that Paul has read bits on Adam Smith and John Nash, though not enough to understand either author’s ideas - Moral Philosophy in the case of Smith; mathematical modeling (Prisoner’s Dilemma) in the case of Nash, plus, perhaps a magazine article or two on genetics, DNA and the inheritance of characteristics.

Arguments prefaced with a need to accept “the proven fact” about something, of which I am familiar (Smith and Nash) and which is also not a “fact” and certainly not “proven”, but manifestly wrong are reminiscent of “dinner party” debates and a few “bar room” arguments (the latter in days when I drank alcohol).

Since my younger days, I have learnt to pass over such “arguments” to save embarrassing the host and the speaker, and to calm my blood pressure.

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