Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Adam Smith on Humanity and Our Dinners


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‘White Bear’ posts at the Centre for Contemporary Arts HERE:

‘Invitation: Farewell to the free market! (July 22nd)

”it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

Adam Smith in ”An Enquiry Into the Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations” from 1776
So, what Adam Smith seems to say is, that when it comes to supplying dinner to all of Scotland, humanity is an over-estimated idea and thus, It was not just our humanity, that in 1776 was supposed to make sure that there would be dinner enough for all of Scotland, but rather perhaps each our own selfinterested beast
.”

Comment
It’s not clear what is the point that 'White Bear' is making?

Is it that feelings for ‘humanity’ would be enough to feed a population, especially one as large as lives in Scotland?

Is it that something other than voluntary efforts by people, or compulsory efforts by some ruling force would be sufficient (and sustainable) to feed the population?

Is that there is some hitherto hidden means could be used to replace the ‘toil’ necessary to collect, process, and provide as rations the daily food requirements of Scotland – much as the fabled bees and ants manage, along with birds, fish and bacteria, etc., too, that achieve their sustenance without ‘markets’ or dictatorship? Manna from heaven, perhaps?

Or the lilies in the field? Or someone with ‘loaves and fishes’?

Adam Smith was not trying to change the world. That was a call to action instigated by Karl Marx, with disastrous results for those innocents his followers ruled with inhumane means.

No, Smith was describing what actually happened in the Scotland he knew. He also noted that many people didn’t do as well in the food stakes as they might have when in need of their dinners. He advised them to persuade the ‘butcher, the brewer, and he baker’, by appealing with their offer to purchase their dinners (a remark about the diet of 18th-century Scots) to appeal to the self-interest of the said ‘butcher, brewer, and baker’, who afforded their own dinners by selling ingredients for the dinners of others and using that income (net of their costs) to buy what they needed – food, clothing, shelter and whatever. In short, prospective diners should appeal to the self-interests of the sellers, and not their own self-interests, when bargaining for their dinners.

If all people relied on benevolence alone for their needs, they would surely be disappointed. Who would toil? Yes, of course when social relations, including the toil that produces food, breaks down, as it does occasionally (though in some places more regularly than others), and famine occurs, it is incumbent on people of humanity, to donate what they can spare to supply emergency food, shelter, and medicine to those afflicted by dreadful calamities.

But a permanent famine across everywhere on Earth would be impossible to mitigate by benevolence and feelings of humanity alone. At present, the necessaries of life are available to the majority of the world’s population, and famine relief is possible for a small minority.

For the rest, Adam Smith, a ‘man of humanity’ indeed, was right.

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