Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Stalinist's View of the Invisible Hand

Roland Boer writes “Stalin’s Moustache” Blog ("Marxism, Religion, Politics, Bible, whatever …")  HERE
Does Adam Smith’s invisible hand = invisible penis?”
 “Probably the most abused slogan from Adam Smith is his “invisible hand. Even though it appears only three times in his writings, it has made more than one economist drool and not a few theologians see divine traces. First, the appearances: in his lectures on astronomy, he mentions the “invisible hand of Jupiter’, and then he casually drops a reference once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and again in Wealth of Nations. In the former, as the rich engage in their natural selfishness and rapacity, …
[The two quotations from the IH passages in TMS (IV.1.10) and WN (IV.iii.9) are printed in full.]
… The phrase has become rubbed and worn by passing through too many hands. Many have extracted the invisible hand from the particular concern of this passage with domestic industry and extended it to become an image of how the possessive individualism of capitalism works to spread capitalism as a whole.
Apart from all the usual dross on this well-worn member, I would like to suggest another dimension. … given that Smith is not averse to an occasional biblical allusion; and given his unremittingly masculine concerns, especially of males of ruling class propensities, I would suggest that the invisible or hidden hand may well be a subconscious allusion to that member concealed in his pants.”  [Biblical references to ‘hand’ and ‘penis’ follow in the link.]
Roland Bear ends with: “[“After I finish trawling through the tiresome and often truly inane works of the classical economists and their forebears (Grotius, Locke, Smith, Ricardo, J.S. Mill, Malthus), I’m dying to settle in for some long evenings with Stalin.
It certainly is an original piece of work, such as I have never seen elsewhere, as is the Blog by Roland Boer from Australia, which largely consists of antiquarian thoughts – literate certainly and intelligent also – in contrast to their overall, unreconstructed Stalinist content.
His reading of the “often truly inane works of the classical economists and their forebears (Grotius, Locke, Smith, Ricardo, J.S. Mill, Malthus” shows both depth and breadth of his scholarship.  
At least Roland Boer’s account of Smith’s references to the IH metaphor are accurate as is his summary judgement on how modern economists have learned to treat it: “Probably the most abused slogan from Adam Smith is his ‘invisible hand’…  Their mistreatment of it is certainly worthy of that dubious accolade.
However, we are unlikely to agree on Smith’s intentions in using the IH metaphor
Roland adds: “the usual dross on this well-worn member” incorporating two metaphors “dross” and “well worn” and I would suggest he enquires further on the role of metaphors in English, perhaps also adding to his reading list of Smith’s works the 1762-3 “Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres” (Oxford University Press].
He might agree that modern economists have forgotten the role of metaphors and thereby we can find from that source that all the confusion about the “invisible hand” being in some sense an entity (“hand of God” and such like) dissolves.  A metaphor does not exist; it is a figure of speech describing its object “in a more striking and interesting manner” (Smith, LRBL, November, 1762, p 29).
[Incidentally, a minor point: Smith’s “History of Astronomy” (posthumous, 1795) was an "Essay" and never a set of “lectures”.]


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