Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Joseph Epstein on a 'Vision' Smith Never had

Snippet from the Wall Street Journal (the rest is behind the ‘subscription only' wall):

Joseph Epstein, in his Oct. 19 editorial-page essay "Ugly, Thorny Things," places facts in opposition to ideas (wherein he emphasizes vision). He notes that "the more facts one has at one's command, the less is inspiration for ideas likely to arrive." He correctly states that the factual knowledge we have acquired contradicts Marx's class struggle vision, but then incorrectly suggests that the depredations of corporations such as Enron contradict Adam Smith's vision of the invisible hand.”

1 Adam Smith never had a ‘vision’ of ‘the invisible hand’, at least he never published that he had such a notion.

2 He referred twice to ‘an invisible hand’, as a metaphor not a 'vision' or 'theory', once in Moral Sentiments and once in Wealth of Nations, not to ‘the invisible hand’. His reference in his History of Astronomy to 'the invisible hand' of Jupiter (the Roman God not the plannet) was a comment on pagan superstitition.

3 Enron, and other criminal activities, do not contradict anything Adam Smith said about commercial activities nor anything about the motivations of people. He regarded justice as a most important part of the edifice of society (Moral sentiments), without which it would ‘crumble’. The trial and conviction of some Enron employees is wholly consistent with his report on how societies create wealth (annual production of the ‘necessaries and conveniences of life’). Some ‘merchants and manufacturers’ engage in illegal, and quasi-illegal activities, such as bank fraud, oppressive actions, including violence, and they lower the net creation of wealth.
Justice requires their punishment.

They also lower the creation of net wealth when they engage in monopoly and other conspiracies to raise prices - he recommended firm action to stop this behaviour by governments changing their policies.

If anybody would email a copy of the relevant paragraphs on Adam Smith in the WSJ article for my personal use, not reproduction (copyrights!), I would be obliged.


Post a Comment

<< Home