Saturday, July 05, 2014

“On Friday, supporters of liberty discovered an unlikely ally. The improbable champion advocating for a left-right alliance is none other than Ralph Nader.
What was equally surprising was that Nader had chosen to discuss this alliance not at a forum conducive to his beliefs, but at the Cato Institute. His willingness to speak at the revered libertarian think tank took everyone by surprise. …
…Nader’s main focus was on the topic of crony capitalism. He explained that it is crony capitalists and corporatists that are the common foe of economic prosperity.
In addition, he explained that these individuals are quick to invoke the name of the free market economist, Adam Smith. He said that when crony capitalists and corporatists use Adam Smith to justify their actions that they are ignoring the most important tenants of Smith’s philosophy.
“Corporatists misinterpret or conveniently avoided that Adam Smith was worried about corporate coercion as much as government coercion,” said Nader. Smith, in Nader’s opinion, was against government control because it would eventually lead to corporate control.
In unanimous agreement, all of the other panel members echoed Nader’s sentiments of the emerging alliance.”
A man after my own heart. In my youthful days when I was interested in political issues, I never refused an invitation to socialise or to address any audience or individual that happened to hold different political values to my own.  Not that I received many such invitations - largely because politics is so tribal - but those I received I accepted. 
I also found in academe that similar tribalism is rampant; especially perhaps among economists. So I salute both Nader and the CATO Institute for their willingness to explore what they may have in common, rather than batter each other over what they disagree about. I always accepted contact and spent time trying to understand their line of thinking.
Economics is riven with factional differences.  I have well-known views on Adam Smith’s legacy that differ from, possibly, the majority of views among modern economists.  Physical infirmity now prevents me travelling to seminars as I used to do.  This Blog helps me keep in touch with some scholars and allows them to keep in touch with me.   I do not censor contrary opinions on Adam Smith in any comments from readers that conform to the expected mutual respect within the Academy.  Disagreement yes! Personal abuse no!
On Nader’s point: “when crony capitalists and corporatists use Adam Smith to justify their actions … they are ignoring the most important tenants of Smith’s philosophy”, with which I am in agreement, both as a scholar of Adam Smith’s ideas and as a ‘soft’ or ‘Bleeding Heart”, Libertarian.  In Smith’s days, “corporate coercion” [was] as much “government coercion”, because both arose mainly from the moral and monetary corrruption of legislators in collusion with the monarchy and their functionaries, and they were intimately linked as beneficiaries. 
I am unconvinced, however, that Smith foresaw it as a likely problem in so far as he allegedly believed it was necessary for him to be against “government control” because it “would eventually lead to corporate control”.  He did not favour government control except where such control was the only likely way of achieving certain socially needed major public investments. He opposed government undertakings where competitive private investments were possible and availible.  Smith opposed the Monarchy and his functionaries interfering in the economy with unnecessary regulations, legislation, particularly in foreign policy (“jealousy of trade” leading to wars), as much as he opposed Governments sponsoring legislation on behalf of politically selected commercial interests.

Smith was a pragmatically nuanced political economist and not a mindless ‘one solution’ ideologue.


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