Those Who Would Change the World Must First Understand History
John Scales Avery – TRANSCEND Media Service (‘Solutions Oriented Peace Journalism’) HERE
"Back to Child Labour and Slavery"
“Until the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, human society maintained a more or less sustainable relationship with nature. However, with the beginning of the industrial era, traditional ways of life, containing both ethical and environmental elements, were replaced by the money-centered, growth-oriented life of today, from which these vital elements are missing.
According to Adam Smith (1723-1790), self-interest (even greed) is a sufficient guide to human economic actions. The passage of time has shown that Smith was right in many respects. The free market, which he advocated, has turned out to be the optimum prescription for economic growth. However, history has also shown that there is something horribly wrong or incomplete about the idea that individual self-interest alone, uninfluenced by ethical and ecological considerations, and totally free from governmental intervention, can be the main motivating force of a happy and just society. There has also proved to be something terribly wrong with the concept of unlimited economic growth".
It is not clear whether John Scales Avery garnered his information about Adam Smith’s from his published works, Moral Sentiments (1759) and Wealth Of Nations (1776). Both went through six editions to 1790, let alone whether he read student notes of Smith’s Lectures on Jurisprudence (1762) and Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters (1763) or, indeed, if John has read Ian Simpson Ross’s, The Life of Adam Smith, 2nd edition 2010. Or did he read a modern account of Adam Smith and took note only of whatever quotations it displayed, or myths it repeated, by an author who knows little more than John Scales Avery displays?
The “traditional ways of life, containing both ethical and environmental elements” apparently lauded by John Avery are not something that he would choose to return to in the mistaken belief that those so-called happy days were ended “with the beginning of the industrial era”. Has John Avery no knowledge of human history long millennia before the “18th and 19th centuries? Living at one with nature may not be the utopia that he hankers after. He can always travel from where he is in the world to live closer to the era before markets, such as in Niger, or other parts of hungry Africa, and anywhere where sustenance has to be satisfied on less than the equivalent of $3 a day in such as the upper Amazon.
And as for ‘peace journalism’, the pre-agricultural era of hunter-gatherers was nowhere a peaceful haven of tranquility with levels of violence per capita exceeding the most blood-letting urban decay of modern ‘civilisation’, even adding in the global wars and state violence (Nazi and Soviet) of the 19th-20th centuries.
Paul Scales Avery repeats the canard that “According to Adam Smith (1723-1790), self-interest (even greed) is a sufficient guide to human economic actions.” That this is absolutely not the case has escaped Avery’s notice. He merely repeats what he has been told by modern economists, for Adam Smith said no such thing. It is an invention. There may be two other sources for this assertion, Bernard Mandeville “Private Vices, Public Benefits” (1724, when Adam Smith was aged 1) and Ayn Rand, a once fashionable philosopher among undergraduates (“The Virtue of Selfishness”) in the 1970s.
Smith dismissed Mandeville’s philosophy in Moral Sentiments as “licentious”. He also made clear that moral man and woman was a social person reflecting society’s “mirror” that judged his or her conduct and acted to restrain it from selfishness and impropriety (that enabled us to “see ourselves as others see us” (Robert Burns).
The much-misquoted passage in Wealth Of Nations about the “butcher, brewer, baker” selling the ingredients for our dinner (18th-century style), instead of advocating, as is asserted ad nauseam that Smith’s advice is to be ‘selfish’, it illustrates in fact our need to mediate our self-interests by “addressing their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages” (WN I.ii.2 27).
Two selfish bargainers would never agree to a bargain by insisting that their own self-interests were met in full (which is indeed the selfish position).
It was not just “history” that showed “that there is something horribly wrong or incomplete about the idea that individual self-interest alone” was sufficient. Adam Smith made that very same point in 1776. He cannot be blamed for the misreading and non-reading of his Work in the 21st century by John Scales Avery and many others!
Labels: Adam Smith and Selfishness