Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Mystery Author, A Mystery Blog, and Mystery of Meaning

Google sent to me a reference to the invisible hand, written by “Klein” (no, not by Daniel Klein) but with no further details other than the title and paper (“Klein on The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Episode 5–A Discussion …”. )

The mystery grew as I read of the supposed source: a blog devoted to “Hypnotherapy Stress” (HERE):
A search of the Blog’s archives showed no other references to Adam Smith and so sign of “Klein’s” identity.

Anyway, I noted these paragraphs:

“There is little in TMS that appreciates the Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, Lysander Spooner, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Thomas Szasz, Robert Higgs, and so on … I grant that Smith’s counsel is not simply knuckle under but the counsel is too one-sided: he encourages bargaining and discourages challenging.”

“James Otteson’s book Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life (Cambridge UP, 2002) does a great job with Smith’s doctrine of an invisible-hand in culture. I think Jim gets Smith right. but I felt a need to criticize Smith for neglecting the possible usurpation of cultural mechanisms.

Smith says: “False notions of religion are almost the only causes which can occasion any very gross perversion of our natural sentiments” (176.12).
Well, what of political religions that have the coercive power of the state behind them? What happens when the state dominates the political culture and uses the cultural institutions to propagate its interpretations? What happens when children are indoctrinated with false notions of political propriety?

I am not surprised that “there is nothing in Theory of Moral Sentiments that appreciates the Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, Lysander Spooner, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Thomas Szasz, Robert Higgs, and so on.

Moral Sentiments was published in 1759 (sixth edition, 1789) long before most of these named people were born and when Smith certainly was in no position to ‘appreciate’ (or alternatively traduce) them.

I too am a great admirer of James Otteson’s ‘Market Place of Life’ (2002: Cambridge University Press), which is why I find “Klein’s” allusion to James Otteson’s alleged allusion to “Smith’s doctrine of an invisible-hand in culture” more than perplexing. I have no idea of what “Klein” speaks. Otteson speaks of the invisible–hand metaphor only four times is his ‘Market Place of Life”, in none of which is about a “doctrine of an invisible-hand in culture”.

Otteson’s first mention of the invisible hand metaphor is revealing: the impartial spectator unlike the invisible hand “is not wholly imaginary” (p 105).

Otteson’s second mention (p 127) is:

“the claim that it can produce virtue in individuals without their intending such is the ‘invisible hand’ of WN at work in TMS.”

Otteson’s third mention (p 156) is:

“The argument seems to be that we act out of self-interest, but, as far as economic growth and progress are concerned, we should be happy about that because by pursuing our individual interests in bettering our condition we act in ways that unintentionally – as if ‘led by an invisible hand’ (WN 456) - conduce to the greater standard of living and economic growth of our entire community.”

Otteson’s fourth mention (p 267), in a subsection entitled “The Invisible Hand of Rule formation” (p 266-69):

“The description in the preceding section is reminiscent of the passage in WN in which speaks of the ‘invisible hand’ that ensures that people’s self-interested economic pursuits also conduce to the overall welfare of society. There is, of course, no real hand – that is why Smith calls it ‘invisible’.”

None of these references mention a “doctrine of an invisible hand of culture”. “Klein”, sad to say, appears to have made it up. Unless, somebody out there knows better?



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