QUICK BITS no. 18
Malcolm Harris posts (28 June) on New Republic HERE discusses a book by Katrine Marçal, a Swedish newspaper columnist, ‘Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner’ (Pegasus Books).
“Mom’s Invisible Hand: What men got wrong about the economy.”
“In the mid-eighteenth century, Scottish philosopher Adam Smith told a story about markets and goods and people, one that has become the dominant narrative about human nature, as well as the structuring principle for our daily interactions. Society is made up of self-interested individuals, he argued, and through markets these individuals make collective life possible. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner,” Smith says in The Wealth of Nations, “but from their regard to their own interest.”
I am not qualified to comment on Marcal’s book as I have not yet read it. I remember reading reviews of it when it was published and I also remember answering the question she asked with the observation that Smith’s cousin, Jean, acted as housekeeper in the Smith household from when he was a student in Glasgow, then as a professor - during the latter time his mother and cousin lived in Adam’s allocated house in Professor’s Close on the Glasgow University campus - and we should note they lived together during much of the rest of his (and their) life times until they all died.
Adam’s university salary, and his earnings as a Custom’s Commissioner, and his book royalties, and his assorted inherited monies, were managed by his mother and cousin, and provided the middle-class living standard shared by all three of them (and later with a young male relative who became his heir).
The ‘butcher, brewer, and baker’ reference was to the typical market stalls and shops frequented in Kirkcaldy (at his mother’s house), in Edinburgh (in various rented properties) and during his several visits to London to visit his publisher or to be consulted by various London Governments , including the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, during which he stayed in various rented properties in the Suffolk Road area (near harding Cross), replete with street markets (likewise on his visit to France). It was in such street markets that he formed his impressions of market behaviours. It may be relevant that many of the stall-holders and owners were women.
His relationship with his mother was very close throughout his life.
Adam’s dinners were prepared by paid house servants or by his cousin.Katrine Marçal’s question addresses a modern agenda in a swiftly changing environment. I know of several domestic situations among my immediate family and friends where the mother goes out to high-paid professional jobs and her male partner stays at home and is employed domestically, looking after the children.