Monday, December 16, 2013

Greed Is Not Good

Mytheos Holt (associate policy analyst at the R Street Institute, and communications strategist at Mair Strategies) in American Conservative HERE
Bernard Mandeville and Consumerism’s Buzz
Before Ayn Rand or Adam Smith, capitalism's prophet was the author of "The Fable of the Bees."
But there is a reason Ayn Rand is considered a gateway drug to the right and Smith isn’t—the “greed is good” ethos, whatever else may be wrong with it, is much sexier, more rebellious, and thus more appealing than staid bourgeois morality. …
Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments were not the first popular defense of capitalism, nor was he even the first to explicitly develop the law of supply and demand. In some ways Smith’s oeuvre is a response to an earlier work, and I believe conservatives today have far more to learn from that first defense of capitalism, and its forgotten author, than they do from Smith.”
The “Greed is Good” school of thinking appeals to those in the throes of passion for selfishness, which, of course, they are perfectly entitled to be enamoured with in a democracy.  That they attribute this idea to Adam Smith is controversial.  Mytheos Holt asserts that an early expression of the “Greed if Good” idea is properly attributed to Bernard Mandeville’s “Fable of the Bees” (1714). This is a welcome clarification as a step forward, immediately before his step backwards in attributing praising it as an historical, even inevitable and necessary characteristic of “capitalism” which is regrettable. 
It is also an inaccuracy to associate both Mandeville and Smith as if they wrote, knew about and were conscious of the early 18th-century phenomenon appearing around them as “capitalism”.  Neither of them knew the word, nor used it.  It was first used in English in 1854 in Thackeray’s novel, The Newcomes (see The Oxford English Dictionary).  In Smith’s writings he used “commerce” as his descriptor of the Fourth Age of Man (after Hunting, shepherding and farming).  To attribute to them as rivals for “the first popular defense of capitalism” is a prime example of rampant anachronism.  Ayn Rand might be a contestant for such a title in the kind of circles where her dwindling fans meet in praise of her, but not elsewhere among grown ups.


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