Friday, February 15, 2013

Inappropriate Use of the Invisible Hand Metaphor


‘Colston’ writes in “Americans for Informed Democracy”:“… young leaders of today creating a better tomorrow.” HERE 
The Invisible Hand”
"I think on some level we are all familiar with Adam Smith’s concept of the “Invisible Hand;” the metaphor used to describe the self-regulating behavior of the market place.  Essentially, he argues that economies are structures that exist as a result of, but also independent from, the behavior of the individuals that comprise it.  The sum total of an economy, Smith surmises, is our independent financial decisions interacting with one another to produce a market force or event (ie: supply and demand or dare I say it, the “Great Recession”).
But the nature of the system that most of us accept as given on an economic level is just as true on an international level.  If we are to be effective change agents within the global system we have to understand how it functions.  You can think of International Relations as the other invisible hand…the left hand perhaps? (I’ll end the metaphor there lest the other invisible hand finds itself attached to the invisible arm hinged to the invisible shoulder socket, sorry)  There are underlying structures in place that motivate how the world works.  I’m not talking about governments, institutions, or specific leadership.  I’m talking about the ways of thinking which color our interactions with the global system.
The idea of the free market, as a way of thinking, is the invisible hand that motivates our economy.  The ideas behind international relations are what make the world turn.  Governments rise and fall, ideologies fade in and out of favor, but when you strip away the temporary actors within the international system, what remains are three major ways of thinking which determine international outcomes.  Lobby governments all you want, publicly champion your cause, but if you really want to affect change you have to understand what is motivating the decisions and to do that you have to understand the concepts which move the invisible hand of international relations.
Comment
From an unsound basis it is extremely difficult to erect a sound idea.  Colston’s heroic efforts to change the world are well intended but ultimately fail the authenticity test.
He writes:
we are all familiar with Adam Smith’s concept of the “Invisible Hand;” the metaphor used to describe the self-regulating behavior of the market place. 
Smith’s use of the invisible hand metaphor did not describe “the self-regulating behavior of the market place”, nor was it a description of a “concept” of his.  In neither of his two only uses of the “invisible hand” metaphor did he refer to markets. (His third reference in his History of Astronomy, 1795 was as an adjectival noun for the pagan beliefs of Romans).
Metaphors are grammatical “figures of speech” as taught by Adam Smith (Lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettre,1763). He certainly did not use the metaphor to “describe the self-regulating behaviour of the market place”.
Colston wants readers “to be effective change agents within the global system”.   Interventions can make changes but cannot predict the likely outcomes – Smith wrote of the “unintended consequences” of individual actions.   I suggest that “group actions” also have unintended consequences, as expressed in the saying that “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”.
Calling such group actions an outcome of “an invisible hand”, as used by Adam Smith, is so shot through with implausibility that even he realises his error that he has the grace to admit it:
International Relations as the other invisible hand…the left hand perhaps? (I’ll end the metaphor there lest the other invisible hand finds itself attached to the invisible arm hinged to the invisible shoulder socket, sorry)”.  This is a potential entry in our ‘LoonyTunes’ series.
There are no collective, let alone individual, “concepts” that can “describe in a more striking and interesting manner” (Adam Smith, “Lectures …”, 1763) using the invisible hand metaphor in “international relations.”

2 Comments:

Blogger airth10 said...

After reading this an image came to me of the invisible hand tied down like Gulliver was by the little people in Gulliver's Travels.

12:28 p.m.  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

airth
Always nice to hear from you.
Your image is a simile not an metaphor.
Gavin

1:43 p.m.  

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