Sunday, February 12, 2006

Trenchant Rebuttal of Laissez Faire Activists by James Pyland

It would be nearly impossible to quantify the number of times that pro-corporate, laissez-faire activists have used the phrase “invisible hand” to justify all manner of unjust and brutal economic policies and their outcomes. This concept has provided to the pro-corporate right an enormous intellectual legitimacy and advantage over their liberal and leftist opponents who seek to limit the excesses of private corporate power. Faced with the unquestioned assumptions implied in the idea of the “invisible hand,” the arguments of liberal opponents often draw little more than scorn, derision, or silence.”

This is how James Pyland opens his remarkable 5,000 word article, ‘Free-market activists distort original message of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”’, published in Online Journal (Silver Springs, Florida, USA, 11 February). For a comprehensive critique of much of what passes for informed opinion by economists claiming a special affinity with Adam Smith, while silently traducing his legacy, it would be difficult to do it better.

You should (must!) read his article now at:

James Pyland considers seven of what he described as ‘Adam Smith’s arguments that contradict the modern message of conservative laissez-faire capitalism’:

Adam Smith was pro-labor
Adam Smith distrusted and denounced the capitalist class
Adam Smith argued against corporate privilege
Adam Smith argued for investment at the local or domestic level
Adam Smith advocated taxing the rich
Adam Smith observed that state power could be used to protect human rights
Adam Smith looked to government-supported education to mitigate the effects of the division of labor.

Now, I have some quibbles with Pyland’s commentary on some of his arguments, but they do not detract from his being absolutely right in his main theme, namely that the conservative consensus in its interpretation of Adam Smith and ‘Wealth of Nations’, is mostly wrong in the way it presents Adam Smith as an advocate of laissez faire (words Smith never used).

Numerous articles on this Blog show my affinity with James Pyland on his broad theme. His article is too long to quote in detail here (I hope to get permission from Online Journal to post Pyland’s entire article on the Articles pages of Lost Legacy) and I would not wish to give any comfort to those critics of his arguments by appearing to make a big issue out of my quibbles about them.

I abhor how professional economists misattribute their misreading of Adam Smith (or more likely, accept uncritically what they have been told about Smith by their tutors, who didn’t read him either) and how politicians loot “Wealth of Nations” for quotations torn out of context for their lazy sound bites. They do Smith a great disservice and expose themselves, at least to readers of Lost Legacy, for their shallowness, which is far more serious, in my view, than any quibbles I have with how James Pyland expresses himself.

Pyland’s account is honest, it is from the “Wealth of Nations”, and is unadorned with falsehoods. Congratulations James Pyland.

A certain candidate for February’s Monthly Lost Legacy Prize?


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