Saturday, November 12, 2016

ONE STEP FORWARD, SEVERAL STEPS TO GO

Carlos Navarro posts (November) on Infloria HERE 
Under the headline: “Meet the real Adam Smith”, Carlos Navarro makes some interesting points, which I was pleased to read, though I have some corrective comments:
“…  Adam Smith’s moral philosophy was simple enough. He rejected as unnatural the two conflicting philosophies of his day, that social order could be achieved only by means of a strong dictatorship or by promoting a Christ-like brotherly love among the citizenry. He realistically held that humans at bottom were selfish creatures, concerned primarily with their individual survival. Thus, the only way to assure social stability was by allowing them to freely exchange labor, goods, and services for profit. If you have something that I want and I have something that you want, and if no king or deity prohibits us from trading what we want from each other, and if whatever those wants are, are not harmful to society, then despite our religious and political differences, whether we like each other or not, we can live in harmony. And if others approach us with better deals, then, to maintain our trading relationship, we would have to trump our competitors with even better deals. Taken at a mega level, it was clear to Smith that the whole of society, as if guided by an “invisible hand,” would benefit from this competition.”
Comment
Adam Smith certainly was critical of the existing UK power structures and the prevailing religious domination of public life, (see my paper: ‘Adam Smith on Religion’, 2010, in Berry, Paganelli, and Smith, eds. Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith, Oxford University Press).
I am not sure that Smith can be associated with Carlos Navarro’s assertion that “He realistically held that humans at bottom were selfish creatures, concerned primarily with their individual survival.
The much quoted opening paragraph of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentments (1759) explicitly contradicts this assertion and states:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.” (TMS I.i.1: 9) Humans, said Smith explicity, were not “at bottom … selfish creatures.” They were inherently also moral creatures.
“Therefore, the main, if not the sole, role of government, according to Smith, was to assure that the competition was free and fair, and, moreover, that the competitors were imbued with a moral conscience, for otherwise the competition would degenerate into the law of the jungle. In his calm, philosophical voice, Smith noted how in his day the overlong terms of apprenticeship (a form of slave labor), the local restrictions against laborers from outside communities, the collusion among wealthy owners of land and capital to set prices, the stashing of bank gold deposits in private coffers and covering withdrawls with unsecured paper notes –stealing the gold, in effect– were, among other ruses, preventing the “invisible hand” from working its magic.”
““Therefore, the main, if not the sole, role of government, according to Smith, was to assure that the competition was free and fair, and, moreover, that the competitors were imbued with a moral conscience, for otherwise the completion would degenerate into the law of the jungle. In his calm, philosophical voice, Smith noted how in his day the overlong terms of apprenticeship (a form of slave labor), the local restrictions against laborers from outside communities, the collusion among wealthy owners of land and capital to set prices, the stashing of bank gold deposits in private coffers and covering withdrawls with unsecured paper notes –stealing the gold, in effect – were, among other ruses, preventing the “invisible hand” from working its magic.”
Comment
Carlos Navarro has made up most of these two paragraphs, Smith NEVER said anything about “preventing the “invisible hand” from working its magic.” 
In fact he NEVER mentioned anything about the invisible hand “working its magic”.

Smith used “an invisible hand” metaphorically, see Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1762-3/1963) Oxford University Press.
Overall Carlos Navarro's article is a step in the right direction, but it has several more steps to go.

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