Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mark Hodak Sumarises Our Differences as Differences of Emphasis

In comments to my previous post Mark Hodak posts his considered reply, which summarises neatly where we differ and why. I think this should be the last word as I do not think we can do other than disagree over what to emphasise, rather than contest issues of great principle.

I have enjoyed the debate (apologies to all if my robust stule caused any offence!).

I shall, therefore, post his reply in full here, and unless further comments are offered by any reader, please consider the debate suspended:

Mark Hodak replies:


I’m billed as a professor of business history, but I rather see myself as a student of business history. Your extensive exposition about what Smith had to say about institutional forms is a fine lesson.

I understand what you say at the start of it: “I believe that the principal-agent problem, recognised by Smith, was incidental to his essential message; specifically that ubiquitous forms of monopoly in foreign trade were another case of the wasteful prevalence of mercantile political economy…” I would grant that, and everything that follows. But his insight about agency was not incidental to MY message—it was central, and a valid insight to use in a piece about evolution of the corporation. My message, quite simply, was that Adam Smith could not have foreseen the dominance of the corporate form we see today. This does not counter anything else he wrote about trade. It is certainly not an indictment of his intellect or his achievement. It does not presuppose that he was in the business of predicting the future, which I grant he was not. It’s simply an extrapolation of his views about joint-stock companies as they had evolved up to his time.

I understand that Smith wrote very little about joint-stock companies, at least in WoN. I doubt there are more than a couple of articles in his entire tome that specifically references them. Quotes like “They have, accordingly, very seldom succeeded without an exclusive privilege, and frequently have not succeeded with one,” or “That a joint stock company should be able to carry on successfully any branch of foreign trade, when private adventurers can come into any sort of open and fair competition with them, seems contrary to all experience” or “Without a monopoly, however, a joint stock company, it would appear from experience, cannot long carry on any branch of foreign trade” may represent incidental sentiments regarding his main message. But they seem to convey a distinct skepticism about the likelihood of a global economy as free as we have today looking the way it does today vis-à-vis corporations.

I understand that Smith did not forsake the joint stock form for every kind of business. As you state, he saw a role for them in certain, defined circumstances. But this view seemed, to me, a rather restrictive one: “The only trades which it seems possible for a joint stock company to carry on successfully without an exclusive privilege are those of which all the operations are capable of being reduced to what is called a Routine, or to such a uniformity of method as admits of little or no variation.” This hardly seems to foretell of a globally competitive GE, or BAE Systems--what he would have certainly characterized as outside of his restrictive definition, and in fact likely have characterized as “foreign trading” companies, albeit without special privileges.

Granted that everything in your fine explanation is true to Smith’s views, nothing in that explanation contradicts my assertion that Smith viewed agency costs as an inherent problem in joint stock companies, whether or not they were monopolies. That assertion is tenable, even granting that he might have felt the same about the impact of agency costs on other business forms (which, I think is debatable; he simply didn’t seem to have the same level of skepticism about those forms in a globally competitive environment).

I won’t presume to debate Smith’s main concerns or central intent in his WoN. Frankly, it’s been a while since I read it. But I don’t think my reading of the quoted passages was incorrect, out of context, or “silly” or “nonsense.” At worst, we have a disagreement on emphasis regarding how Smith might have weighted the relative impact of agency on various institutions— something that would be difficult to guess, even with all the supporting material on his views about each. One might disagree about how Smith might have viewed the modern world, but that is an admittedly speculative exercise that would properly remain outside of any thematic discussion."

The Debate Continues (long post!)





Gavin Kennedy

Mark writes:

"The basic difference rested on whether joint-stock companies or any companies in fact, co-partnerys or regulated, were made monopolies or not. This seems to be lost on you."

How, then, do you read this statement:

"It is upon this account that joint-stock companies for foreign trade have seldom been able to maintain the competition against private adventurers. They have, accordingly, very seldom succeeded without an exclusive privilege, and frequently have not succeeded with one."

To me, that doesn't read like the relevant distinction is monopolies, especially as "this account" appears to refer to agency ("negligence and profusion") rather than theft and fraud."

I replied:

Hi Mark

I hope I am not so arrogant as to assert that I have nothing more to learn about Adam Smith’s writings, so I am pleased when challenged to justify something I have asserted and compel me to re-look at my interpretations, and I thank you for presenting me with such an opportunity.

The relevant section of Wealth Of Nations is found between pages 731-758 (1976 Glasgow Edition from Oxford University Press), or between pages 690-716 (Edwin Canaan’s 1937 edition, Random House): ‘Of the Publick Works and Institutions which are necessary for facilitating particular Branches of Commerce’.

In this section, Adam Smith discusses the different institutional forms of commercial entities in the 17th -18th century. It is necessary to read it all in order to make conclusions about what Smith intended; quoting sentences from a part of it is no substitute.

For you, teaching 21st-century corporate governance at a Business School, the significance of Smith on the different forms of corporate governance is to teach the ‘principal-agent’ problem.

I believe that the principal-agent problem, recognised by Smith, was incidental to his essential message; specifically that ubiquitous forms of monopoly in foreign trade were another case of the wasteful prevalence of mercantile political economy, with the East India Company as the worst example, with the other chartered companies as ‘oppressive’ or ‘useless’ examples.

To facilitate commerce, ‘extraordinary expence’ was necessary in particular institutions (p 731). In ‘barbarous and uncivilised nations’ merchants required fortified protection; in ‘Indostan’ the East India Companies (English and French), though dealing with ‘mild and gentle people’ pretended they too needed fortified forts, and in Europe, the expense of a ‘permanent’ ‘ambassador, minister, or consul’ was sufficient to sort out arguments among merchants and local citizens (p 732).

Foreign trade attracted ‘pirates and freebooters’, and merchants ‘taxed’ themselves to cover such costs. At home, governments provided such protection. In foreign trade, merchants ‘perswade’ the sovereign to devolve protective powers to them and while ‘prudent’ initially, in the long run it ‘proved universally, either burdensome or useless, and either have mismanaged or confined the trade’ (p 733). By ‘confined’ Smith meant monopolised the trade; he saw it as the overriding economic problem of the 18th century.

Without ‘joint stock’ (each member sharing ‘common profit or loss in proportion to his share’) they must admit any person who pays the subscription (‘fine’), and trade at his own risk, i.e., become ‘Regulated Companies’, which ‘resemble’ ‘corporations of trade’ or ‘town guilds’, the particular institutions that Smith attacks through book IV, and were weak ‘monopolies’.

Smith considered regulated companies in foreign trade to be ‘useless’ and shows why from p 734-737 (their ‘directors’ have no interest in their success, only in their part of them). Their weakness and failure mean members drop out, competition is reduced, and individuals, for a while, enjoy profits (p 737). Parliament attempted to ‘restrain effectually the oppressive and monopolizing spirit which is natural to directors of a regulated company’ (pp 737-8.

He then discusses the structure of joint stock companies. Profits based on shares; cannot trade on own account; their interests connected to the interests of the company; they maintain forts and garrisons; and maintain them properly compared to regulated companies (pp 737-40).

He compares joint stock to co-partneries. Partners cannot sell their shares without the permission of other partners; joint stock members can sell in the market. Partners are liable for their entire fortune for debts; joint stock companies members are liable to the extent of their shares. (p 740)

Joint stock companies are managed by a Court of Directors, and ‘frequently’ meet the ‘proprietors’ (shareholders), who receive a dividend decided by the Directors. Independent ‘adventurers’ buy shares because their risk is limited. Large capitals were raised in this manner in millions, not thousands (p 740).

The directors of such companies, however, being the managers rather of other people's money than of their own, it cannot well be expected, that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private copartnery frequently watch over their own. Like the stewards of a rich man, they are apt to consider attention to small matters as not for their master's honour, and very easily give themselves a dispensation from having it. Negligence and profusion, therefore, must always prevail, more or less, in the management of the affairs of such a company. It is upon this account that joint stock companies for foreign trade have seldom been able to maintain the competition against private adventurers. They have, accordingly, very seldom succeeded without an exclusive privilege, and frequently have not succeeded with one. Without an exclusive privilege they have commonly mismanaged the trade. With an exclusive privilege they have both mismanaged and confined it.” (p 741)

Mark focuses on ‘negligence and profusion’ as the determining characteristic of all joint stock companies, but this was not a feature of the joint stock companies that Smith praised (Bank of England, Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, and others). Also, he reads into ‘this account’ only ‘profusion and negligence’ as hindering keeping ‘private traders out’ when it is the entire problem of their weakness discussed beforehand that fails to stop ‘private adventurers’.

I focus on the problem for the Chartered trading companies engaged at long distances on their lack of ability to ‘maintain the competition against private adventurers’, who were trading in ship loads of cargo each way between England and India at some cost to the Chartered Company (including collusion under bribes of local officials in the matter of customs dues, if they landed or loaded their cargoes in a Company port). This is particularly important as such competition (presented to parliament as ‘ruinous’) required, they claimed, the remedy of a legal monopoly. The power of enforcement east of Cape of Good Hope was devolved to armed Company ships, itself a power open to wide and tyrannical abuse.

Smith’s discussion (pp 740-46) on company structure is interrupted by a long discussion on trade with Africa, the Hudson Bay company (a joint stock company that worked successfully because of its remoteness, climate and short weeks in which the sea was free of ice, plus manned by 120 persons only, and no independent ‘adventurers’ able to interfere, p 743), the Spanish West Indies and the South Sea Company. Smith asserts that ‘Their ill success was imputed, by their factors and agents, to the extortion and oppression of the Spanish government; but was, perhaps, principally owing to the profusion and depredations of those very factors and agents, some of whom are said to have acquired great fortunes even in one year.

Again, this is a problem exacerbated by distance and time lost in assessing what was going on. All organizations of all kinds, publicly funded armies, navies, small trader shops, co-partneries, regulated companies, joint stock companies, even churches, have been subjected over the years to ‘negligence and profusion’ whenever the perpetrators can get away with it and whenever there is something of value to misappropriate. The foreign trade business in the 16th-19th century was particularly open to such malfeasance independent of the joint stock structure – ship’s cargoes ‘disappeared’ regularly as world trade grew, both from collusive piracy and independent opportunism (and sinking).

Smith gives a case history of the East India Company. In the early years its capital was small (£740,000) at £50 a share, and their dealings ‘not so exorbitant, nor their dealings so extensive, as to afford either a pretext for gross negligence and profusion, or a cover to gross malversation’ (p 747). Its original charter was not ‘confirmed by act of parliament’ and did not ‘convey an exclusive privilege’. It was reconstituted in 1698 (for a while there were two East India Companies) and their rival trading and ‘private traders’ ‘well nigh ruined both’ (p 748).

Smith states the economics: ‘The increase of demand, besides, though in the beginning it may sometimes raise the price of goods, never fails to lower it in the run. It encourages production, and thereby increases the competition of the producers, who, in order to undersell one another, have recourse to new divisions of labour and new improvements of art which might never otherwise have been thought of. The miserable effects of which the company complained were the cheapness of consumption and the encouragement given to production, precisely the two effects which it is the great business of political œconomy to promote’ (p748).

When legislation affecting the company finally settled down, there was a period of prosperity, following its legal monopoly from 1711, and its capital rose to £3 million, dividends were paid and the government received loans. Such events do not pass unnoticed by managers, clerks and cargo handlers, again exacerbated by the distance separating the men on the ground in India (with collusive relatives and others in London’s docks). Smith notes ‘The great increase of their fortune had, it seems, only served to furnish their servants with a pretext to greater profusion, and a cover for greater malversation, than in proportion even to that increase in fortune’ (p 751).

The road to state control was underway, a ‘solution’ with which Smith was likely to be opposed. A governor-general was sent out with four assessors, then a new court of judicature was appointed, as the scandal of the Company’s management became public knowledge. Smith thought it all fruitless:

About the prosperity of the great empire, in the government of which that vote gives him a share, he seldom cares at all. No other sovereigns ever were, or, from the nature of things, ever could be, so perfectly indifferent about the happiness or misery of their subjects, the improvement or waste of their dominions, the glory or disgrace of their administration, as, from irresistible moral causes, the greater part of the proprietors of such a mercantile company are, and necessarily must be’ (p 752).


But if the company were bad stewards, and bad sovereigns, when the whole of their nett revenue and profits belonged to themselves, and were at their own disposal, they were surely not likely to be better when three-fourths of them were to belong to other people, and the other fourth, though to be laid out for the benefit of the company, yet to be so under the inspection and with the approbation of other people” (p 753).

Smith accepts the case for a temporary monopoly: ‘When a company of merchants undertake, at their own risk and expence, to establish a new trade with some remote and barbarous nation, it may not be unreasonable to incorporate them into a joint stock company, and to grant them, in case of their success, a monopoly of the trade for a certain number of years” (p 754.

If this becomes a perpetual monopoly (an aim of mercantile political economy) it is a worse solution, for it merely enables ‘the company to support the negligence, profusion, and malversation of their own servants, whose disorderly conduct seldom allows the dividend of the company to exceed the ordinary rate of profit in trades which are altogether free, and very frequently makes it fall even a good deal short of that rate.’

Smith clearly considered that chartered trading companies, institutions of mercantile political economy, were inappropriate in that role. It was in their nature to fail. He quotes the French economist, Abbé Morellet’s list of 55 joint stock companies for foreign trade that failed since 1600 (p 755). He approved of joint stock companies ‘without an exclusive privilege’ in businesses where ‘Routine, or such uniformity of method admits of little or no variation’, including the banking, insurance, making and maintaining canals, and water aqueducts (p 756), and considered them to be ‘very successfully managed’.

He summarises his main criticism of those joint stock companies formed for general purposes as unreasonable when they ‘exempt a particular set of dealers from some of the laws which take place with regard to their neighbours’, when then cannot show that they are of ‘greater utility’ than the ‘common trades’ and when they cannot show that they need a greater capital than can easily be collected in a private co-partnery, or several co-partneries entering the same trade and, necessarily, competing.

His critique is against mercantile trading monopolies, sheltered by monopoly, buying cheap and selling dear, but burdened by distance (encouraging ‘negligence and profusion) and with insufficient enforceable control exercised by its ‘proprietors’, and by law. He did not misjudge joint stock company structures and did not live to see their legal structures in the 19th century that resolved some of the monopoly problems but, alas, not the ‘negligence and profusion’ of the likes of Enron.

Smith gives some good case material for classes on business scandals; he does not justify being 'utterly wrong' on joint stock companies.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Mark Hodak on Adam Smith": a debate begins

In case you did not read the 'comments' to yesterday's article Mark Hodak replied to my post, as below, and I replied to Mark's comments (also below).

Mark Hodak writes:


I don't think that the article you're critiquing is the one I wrote. I don't understand what conclusions about modern corporations you feel I reached were "erroneous."

I understand Smith's antipathy to the East India Company, and I know full well the contest of WON. What does that have to do with his general concern about agency? It seems to me he was perfectly clear (and prescient) about the agency problem of corporations, and it seems equally clear that he didn't think these problems were limited to monopoly trading companies. What am I missing on this point?

As for the claims of what he didn't foresee, I think you're interpreting that as an attack on his intellect, which is an unfortunate read. None of the readers of this article who have provided me with feedback on it have interpreted this as an attack on Smith, but rather an encomium of the adaptability of the markets Smith was wise enough to free.

By the way, the editors picked the word "folly," not me. But I don't think that should have thrown off a calm reader with regards to intent."
5:36 PM

Gavin Kennedy replies:

Hi Mark

Thank you for your interesting comments. Clearly we do not yet agree.

Your views on modern corporations and their ‘scandals’ are perfectly legitimate for the 21st century. Linking them to Adam Smith’s critique of the East India Company in the 18th century is not. His rhetoric on this subject reflected the temper of the times when the chartered trading companies were either ‘oppressive’ or ‘useless’; legislators were corrupted to pass Acts of Parliament the legalise monopolies or to ‘buy’ the sovereign’s consent to award Royal Charters to these particular companies.

It took around 18 months to send instructions and receive replies to reports London between India (it takes seconds today), making ‘supervision’ by the board’s directors a nominal exercise, and vast scope for misleading them (where bribes did not do it for them).

The officers of the Company in India, if they survived, made fortunes from corruption, as did, on a smaller but still lucrative scale the rest of the employees from managers to clerks, who traded on their ‘own account’ and filched valuable cargo to and from the Company ships. The economic effect on the Indian economy was also ruinous.

In short, the chartered monopoly trading companies were special cases of the joint-stock company structure and Adam Smith’s critique referred specifically to them. He acknowledged the joint stock structure in other case, though until the later 19th century they were not fully established in law and were more tightly regulated.

Examples of joint-stock companies that he favoured included the Bank of England, 1694; the Bank of Scotland, 1695, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, 1727, which were not corrupt, and which were free of his strictures on what is now known as the principal-agent problem, nor were they as badly managed on anything remotely like the scale of the East India Company. He recommended joint stock structures for insurance and large projects like canals.

The basic difference rested on whether joint-stock companies or any companies in fact, co-partnerys or regulated, were made monopolies or not. This seems to be lost on you. Your agenda you are perfectly entitled to project; my criticism is that you finds it necessary to drag Adam Smith into it by weaving his advocacy around well known selective quotations from Wealth Of Nations, a habit to which columnists in US media are addicted, as well as professors.

Smith was not ‘utterly wrong … about corporations’. You may be utterly right about modern corporations, and no doubt many commentators wrote in to say how much they agreed with you, but that is beside the point. Myths about Adam Smith abound and the general knowledge about Adam Smith in US academe is quite disappointingly low, even among some Nobel prize winners.

You claim, “I understand Smith's antipathy to the East India Company, and I know full well the conte[x?]t of WON”. On the evidence presented in your article in Forbes, I am unable to acknowledge your understanding as other than moderate to low.

Your understanding of modern corporations is high and your students will benefit from you concentrating on them.

I accept your point about the sub-editor being responsible for attaching the word 'folly' to the headline.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mark Hodak's Fantasy Folly About Adam Smith

Marc Hodak writes in Forbes (25 Octover), “Adam Smith's Folly”(25 Oct)
Mark Hodak asserts:

Were Adam Smith alive today, he'd be an activist hedge fund manager or a private equity raider. He had a decidedly pessimistic view about corporations. Most businesses of his day were proprietorships or partnerships. He didn't think corporations--joint-stock companies, as they were then called--would amount to much, because badly incentivized managers would inevitably destroy them…
…In other words, managers are invariably prone to waste. They will gold-plate their office equipment and cut out early for their kids' music recitals. And what about stockholder fraud, such a large source of angst among modern governance critics? Smith felt that the possibility of theft existed in every area of commercial life, yet commerce thrived. "Negligence and profusion," what economists now call "agency costs," were different; they were, and are, an inherent result of the separation of ownership and management

Smith was well aware of the benefits of corporations, including their ability to concentrate large amounts of money into capital-intensive undertakings. But he thought that the costs of agency would always be too high. He believed that those costs scaled up with the business, as that was the experience of his day. Therefore, the bigger a business got, the worse the waste. He frankly didn't see any way around it, even if the corporation had monopoly privileges...

...Early corporations were chartered by the Crown or legislature. In the days before corporate income taxes, this was a novel way for a government to raise revenue. The monarch would grant a corporation special trading rights or other monopoly privileges in return for certain payments. The Crown might even invest money in this enterprise for a share of its dividends, or expect these enterprises to lend large sums to the government at favorable rates. The incestuous relationship between government and corporations no doubt colored Smith's view of these kinds of businesses.

Why was Smith so far off the mark on the survivability of corporations? For one thing, the relationship between corporations and the state has since transformed. Although the incestuous quid pro quo that was prominent in Smith's day remains the norm in most of the world, it's not typical in developed economies. Most western corporations operate without any special privileges, under licenses that are routinely offered to anyone willing to go through some simple administrative processes. The resulting lack of special treatment from the government forces corporations to become ever more competitive in minimizing unnecessary costs, including agency costs.

Nominally, the main tool for controlling agency costs has been board oversight. However, Smith was no more confident in the efficacy of that control than were many subsequent critics of boards, with good reason. Boards get fooled all the time, and they have their own issues with greed. The dramatic reduction in agency costs that made corporations feasible was, in fact, brought about by the development of two other, powerful tools that Smith did not foresee: transparency and internal incentives.

In the 19th century, railroads were the biggest promise of corporations--and the biggest challenge to their existence. Railroads were capital-intensive and operated on such a large scale that no central committee could supervise its operations. Money flowed in and out of the business through countless retail transactions. Railroads were ungovernable by any standards of Adam Smith's time. But the new technology spawned new kinds of organization, and new governance mechanisms to cope with it...

...Their managers simply figured that if they wanted the cash needed to grow the businesses, they needed to make their investors as comfortable as possible…
… Management incentives eventually evolved into tools for motivating even lower-level employees to work hard for the shareholders. Notwithstanding the paternalism of capitalists in his day, Smith could not foresee a sales manager and her family being sent to Aruba for winning a sales contest. How could any company afford to be so generous? Why would they give something like that away? Where is Aruba?
Adam Smith will go down in history as one who foresaw innumerable ways that market processes could adapt and organize themselves to allocate scarce resources between economic agents. He would be quite comfortable--and mighty pleased--with the dizzying scope of trade in every commodity, product and service imaginable, and the incredible wealth engendered by that trade. He predicted that. But he would be surprised by the degree to which economic agents themselves would evolve, that they could scale up dramatically while keeping their agency costs well under control. After realizing how utterly wrong he was about corporations, Smith would probably nod in satisfaction. Or, maybe he'd buy them out and fire the managers.

[Marc Hodak is managing director of Hodak Value Advisors, a firm specializing in the finance and compensation issues of corporate governance and he teaches corporate governance at New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business.]

Like many modern economists teaching in American universities, Mark Hodak reads Wealth Of Nations (or possibly a set of quotations from it) on joint-stock companies, focuses on Adam Smith’s criticism of 18th century joint-stock companies and jumps to erroneous conclusions about 19th-21st century joint-stock companies.

From the post above, I have selected some sentences or parts of sentences to illustrate what I mean.

First, a word about context. Smith’s criticism of joint stock companies concentrates on the chartered trading companies, under Royal Warrant or Act of Parliament, such as the East India Company, with side-swipes at other chartered trading companies governing British trade with other parts of the world. He accepted the benefits of joint stock companies for other purposes.

The relevant part of Wealth Of Nations is found in WN V.i.e.1-40: pp 731-58. pp 746-58.

He frankly didn't see any way around it, even if the corporation had monopoly privileges.”

Sorry, wrong way round. It was the state-backed, legal monopoly of the Chartered Trading Companies, in particular the East India Company that was the cause of the problems of management – and its long standing criminality of its people, from the Directors to the lowliest clerk in its employ – and Mark Hodak misses Adam Smith’s point spectacularly.

“The incestuous relationship between government and corporations no doubt colored Smith's view of these kinds of businesses.”

CommentNot quite. Smith also saw a potential role for incorporating the financial interests of merchants into a joint stock company with a monopoly for a ‘certain number of years’ (WN Vi.i.e.30: p 754); the East India Company was founded in 1600 and by the last quarter of the 18th century it retained its monopoly, which Smith found, with good reason, to be unacceptable (it lasted for near on another 100 years). [Also see below].

Adam Smith believed in the efficacy of joint-stock companies for large capital projects to facilitate commerce (canals, etc.,), and for banks (he praised the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of England, which were joint-stock companies but not chartered monopolies).

Why was Smith so far off the mark on the survivability of corporations?”

Hardly appropriate as the East India Company had lasted c.180 years by the time he added his critical views in the 1783 edition and continued on into the 19th century.

His criticism was directed at their vast diversion of scarce capital to enrich the members and employees of the East India Company which could be better invested in productive activity, plus the plunder of the Indian economy for personal aggrandisement of the many thieves they employed.

brought about by the development of two other, powerful tools that Smith did not foresee: transparency and internal incentives.”

It took a long time after the Company Acts in the late 19th century brought about ‘transparency and internal incentives’ and even today company fraud on customers, shareholders and employees have some ways to go before they can be (if ever) declared permanently ‘clean’.

To which, for balance, we should add that state-managed organisations are hardly monuments to superbly managed, efficient, and 'honest' organisations.

Notwithstanding the paternalism of capitalists in his day, Smith could not foresee a sales manager and her family being sent to Aruba for winning a sales contest. How could any company afford to be so generous? Why would they give something like that away? Where is Aruba?”

Silly claim by Marc Hodak. Adam Smith was not in the prediction of future events business; he seldom looked forward and his whole perspective was historical not futurist. Marc Hodak would know that if he was familiar with Adam Smith’s works.

Adam Smith will go down in history as one who foresaw innumerable ways that market processes could adapt and organize themselves to allocate scarce resources between economic agents” and “He predicted that..."

See above. The only specific prediction of a future event that I am familiar with is his prediction that the ex-British colonies of America would in about a hundred years would become the richer than Britain in produce and therefore in taxation. (WN IV.vii.c.79: p 625)

He avoided predictions and thought the people of the future would deal with the future’s problems.

“After realizing how utterly wrong he was about corporations, Smith would probably nod in satisfaction. Or, maybe he'd buy them out and fire the managers.”

Fantasy nonsense. I don’t accept he was ‘utterly wrong’ about the chartered monopoly ‘corporations’, which were part of his critique of ‘mercantile political economy’(the main points of which stand true today of modern mercantile practice and should be read in that context.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

If Only Modern Economists Would Read and Understand His Thinking

On International Law Reporter (here)
Jacob Katz Cogan writes: “Petersmann: Constitutionalism and the Regulation of International Markets”, which contains this paragraph:

Since Adam Smith, economists increasingly acknowledge these interdependencies between economic, legal and social order, for example between the economic objective of promoting consumer welfare through legal guarantees of consumer-driven competition and open markets, and the democratic objective of protecting individual self-government and peaceful cooperation among citizens through constitutional guarantees of equal freedoms and social justice.”

If only; If only!

The majority of modern economists do not consider context beyond Homo economicus, a species of rational, self-interested maximisers, who act without any human characteristics at all and who obey automatically the dictates of sets of mathematical equations.

Adam Smith was just before the beginning of the classical economics (not being ‘ its not likely to be much to do with the evolution of the commercial economy or with much beyond their rational decision models of ‘human action’.

However, if they were somehow to acknowledge a real world of ‘interdependencies’ they would understand much more about how economies and those in them function. We can take it that the above paragraph is a description of what economics should be about, but presently is not.

Adam Smith’s Works show how economics might have developed if only it had continued to apply the lessons of the past to the problems of the present and not chase the futile goal of predicting the future.

I thank Jacob Katz Cogan for showing what might have been.

A Neat Tutoring Aid on the Evolution of Commerce

On Diverse Thoughts (here) the author, Roger Costello, has drawn a most interesting flow diagram of “Mankind’s journey from hunter-gatherers to coins as the instrument for doing commerce”, based he says on Adam Smith’s Wealth Of Nations and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel.

I could quibble about a few points, such as it leaves out the Age of Shepherding, the direct descendant from Hunter-Gathering (corralling tamable animals for domestication is a darn-sight easier than hunting for them in the aftermath of the last ice-age).

But the general drift of the flow diagram is a fairly accurate account of the emergence of the age of commerce from the age of agriculture and accords well with Adam Smith’s account of the ages of mankind in his Lectures On Jurisprudence (1762-3) and Wealth Of Nations (1776).

I recommend that you follow the link; it might make a good diagram for a tutor's talk on economic history.

Abortion Debates and Adam Smith

Gracchi’ on Westminsters Wisdom (25 Oct): ‘The Argument About Abortionhere:

Looking at the abortion debate, the most interesting thing about it is that it denotes I think the basis for most modern moral judgements. The basis for most people's morality it seems to me from this and other debates is concepts of empathy. In this sense Adam Smith was right - in that he predicted that the marketisation of society would lead to more empathetic understandings of morality. Whether you are a Christian pro-lifer or a feminist pro-choicer the basic vocabulary with which you talk about religion is exactly the same - its about the sympathy that a particular object should receive.

Phrasing it in terms of rights is a mere rhetorical choice. This also explains to me the presiding causes of our time- the way that pictures of African orphans or victims of the Tsunami can become cause celebre and evoke millions of charitable donations. One of the interesting things about abortion is that it is an issue where empathy can justifiably be evoked on both sides- both the mother and the embryo can be said to deserve our understanding- that makes it a difficult and controversial issue within an age where the dominant moral climate is partly an empathetic one.

Of course there are more principles involved within our moral climate- but I think the abortion debate reveals something very interesting about the way that we think about right and wrong. It reveals how important empathy is in our decision as to which way to go on an issue- that is the way that both sides make their arguments. And it also reveals the way that the language of rights, is in this case at least, more of a trump card than an actual argument.”

I found this appropriate reference to Adam Smith in the midst of what is often highly contentious debate about abortion.

Adam Smith was right - in that he predicted that the marketisation of society would lead to more empathetic understandings of morality.”

I absolutely forgive Gracchi’s awkward and inelegant Americanism of ‘marketisation’ – we know what he means (don’t we?).

Why can’t we have more of this kind of reference to Adam Smith which is spot on, absolutely what he intended and in line with his legacy?

For completion and without taking sides, I should mention that Adam Smith expressed his disgust several times about the human practice of 'infanticide' and the 'disposal' of aged members of a community in times of severe deprivation.

Context is Important When Quoting Adam Smith

Robert Reich’s Blog carries this post (24 October):

"Who Pays the Dollars that Finance Bush's War? More on a Fair Tax Burden

In his discussion of war finance he states (legitimately):

If we’re serious about national defense – as well as all the other things we need (police, fire fighters, roads, bridges, schools, and clean water, to name a few)- it's your COUNTRY. And the principle for who’s gonna pay should be equal sacrifice.”

And he adds:

Even Adam Smith saw the wisdom of a graduated tax. “The rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in proportion,” he wrote. (Wealth of Nations, vol. 2, ed. Campbell, Oxford U Press, 1976, p. 840.)”

The quotation from Adam Smith is from the Oxford University Press, ‘Glasgow Edition’ of Wealth Of Nations is on page 842, not page 840 and is found at: WN V.ii.e.6.

For accuracy, the context in which Adam Smith is making this wholly acceptable assertion is in his discussion of house rents, which is a commodity widely differentiated by quality, convenience and splendour, and it begins:

A tax upon house-rents, therefore would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be any thing very unreasonable.” Professor Reich’s quotation follows: “The rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.” [WN V.ii.e.6: p 842]

When quoting from Adam Smith, as many do, it is incumbent on the writers to make clear the context otherwise a particular statement by Adam Smith can be given a general meaning, in this case for all forms of taxation, when Adam Smith may have intended to refer to a particular case.

Smith preferred that taxation should fall, where possible, on luxuries rather than basic necessities. Housing is a necessity but housing came in all levels of opulence and was therefore treatable as a luxury for some taxpayers, who in consequence should may more tax on their houses and palaces.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Person Moans in a Country that at Least 5 Billion Others Would Gladly Swap Places With For His Misery

In what is becoming a typical rant of despair among us, Alfred Sant writes in the Times of (24 Oct) here: “Praying mantis”:

The dominant ideology... which will be with us for a long time: indeed, till we all are dead... is defined by free market mechanisms. They belong in large part to Adam Smith's thesis, that free competition between the factors of production ensures the best price and quality, through a balance between supply and demand, fuelled by the self-interest of all those involved in production, distribution and the rest. Devised at a time when enterprises were relatively small and the room for rapid innovation was enormous, this ideology had its ups and downs... not least when confronted with statist and centrally-planned models of how to organise society.
With the demise of most such "socialist" models, the free market ideology has had a free run in laying out the basis for the ongoing economic and social give and take within modern societies. This has continued to happen despite the fact that organisations and their operating environments have altered immeasurably since Smith's time. From local, industrial organisations have gone multinational, then global. They are no longer First or Second World - many have become Third World-based or owned.

Services as a source of wealth creation have burgeoned, fuelled by the spread of new "service" products that frequently go through conceptual quantum leaps. Technologies - not least in the communications area - morph rapidly. They multiply the available ranges of information on which one decides about lifestyles, as well as about purchasing and selling. Complex bureaucracies take business and governmental decisions, nationally and supranationally.

In this context, Smith's free trade ideas should have rapidly become obsolescent. That is hardly their status at present. How then does one deal with recession and the creation of jobs? How does one conceptualise inflation in order to stub it out? When I was young or younger, the belief still was that Maynard Keynes had gotten it right: the market stayed free and competitive but the state could dig in. To achieve "rational" objectives related to economic growth and social balancing, the state could - by implementing far-sighted investments, tax stimuli, and by restraining or increasing its current expenditure - ensure objectives that are considered by one and all to be desirable. Among such objectives are full to quasi-full employment... a minimal rate of price inflation... a steady and "balanced" growth in capital investment...

The non-market mechanisms deployed by the state would ensure the preservation and enhancement of Smith's free market. Keynes' audacious non sequitur made sense for three decades or so. Then it was abandoned under the political offensives launched during the Reagan and Thatcher years - which made free market beliefs a sine qua non for all reputable members of the intellectual and economic nomenklatura.
We live in a vastly different world to that of Adam Smith. Even so, the new orthodoxy, which, on the surface, embraces his ideas, still seems more robust than the Keynesian compromise...

Because of the mismatch between the reality in which Smith theorised and our reality of today, the new orthodoxy is leading to hard choices where most of us - middle- and lower-income earners - lose

There’s too much in this extract to tackle piece by piece. The alleged ‘free market thesis’ of Adam, Smith is barely recognizable. Alfred Sant calls it an ideology without explaining how Wealth Of Nations, a critique of mercantile political economy, is an ideology. That a free market could be turned into an ideology is perfectly legitimate, but whether Adam Smith held such a view is most doubtful.

However blessed the mid-18th century was by ‘the room for rapid innovation’ it was as nothing compared to the scale of innovation, and its speed, today. Why Adam Smith’s ‘free trade ideas should have rapidly become obsolescent’ is not explained; mercantile political economy has not left the scene by a long way.

The century of colonialism was a great diversion that cost a great deal in blood and treasure which could have been more productively spend on enhancing the capital base and raising through employment many millions of low paid and unemployed people towards opulence.

Adam Smith’s ideas on free trade were not implemented; the free trade that evolved was heavily undermined by the one-way street of colonial ism and the failed experiment with communism.

The reality of attempts to ‘ensure the preservation and enhancement of Smith's free market’ was neither free nor Smithian.

This leads to Alfred Sant concluding: “Because of the mismatch between the reality in which Smith theorised and our reality of today, the new orthodoxy is leading to hard choices where most of us - middle- and lower-income earners - lose.

This from a citizen of a member state of the European Union, one of the few really rich continents on the planet where many moan but none leave, while many try to enter from the really poor parts of the world because they know what absolute and relative deprivation really means.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Adam Smith on Necessities and Luxuries (the latter may be taxed)

The Bayesian Heresy ('economics, global agenda, current affairs, globalisation, culture and more rants on the dismal science') here:

Quote of the Day- Adam Smith in 21st Century” by Marshall Jevons.

Under necessaries, therefore, I comprehend[,] not only those things which nature, but those things which the established rules of decency have rendered necessary to the lowest rank of people. All other things[,] I call luxuries[;] without meaning by this appellation[,] to throw the smallest degree of reproach upon the temperate use of them. Beer and ale, for example, in Great Britain, and wine, even in the wine countries, I call luxuries. A man of any rank may, without any reproach, abstain totally from tasting such liquors. Nature does not render them necessary for the support of life[;] and custom no where renders it indecent to live without them.” (Punctuation corrected: from Glasgow Edition, WN V.ii.k: p 870-1]

This is an accurate and useful quotation in which Adam Smith is discussing ‘Taxes upon consumable Commodities’. Incidentally, it was not his case against drinking, beer, ale, or wine! [I speak as an abstainer from alcohol].

His more serious point on what constitute the ‘necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of life’ in respect of the ‘necessaries’ would have relevance when assessing the ‘subsistence’ wage that employers would be deemed to pay in Smith’s ‘model’ of how a commercial economy worked in the 18th century.

It might also be relevant when assessing the distribution of income in the 21st century to determine absolute poverty in a rich economy compared to a developing or non-developing (poor) economy. The contents of the necessaries basket of consumable goods at different levels of development would be different.

Defining a low income family in a rich country as living in intolerable poverty is a controversial subject among policy makers and those who influence them. It would be an interesting exercise for modern economists to estimate along the lines that Adam Smith suggested exactly what would be regarded as the minimum creditable requirement for different income groups in today’s world.

I understand that in certain poorer groups, the quality, and presumably the expense, of styled footwear of young adults is a key indicator of what is considered to be respectable among them and not merely whether they have footwear at all.

All ‘likenesses’ of Adam Smith show him to be wearing stylish shoes, he also like drinking French claret and Scottish beer, was stylishly dressed (he had his ‘contraband’ shirts burned when he became a Scottish Customs Commissioner), and lived frugally. His two indulgences were his library collection and entertaining friends for tea.

Monday, October 22, 2007

When Quoting Someone's Views Make Sure You Have Read the Original (all historians should know that!)

Following my new policy of noting when other economics blogs note Lost Legacy, Brad Delong today reports:

A Gathering of the Clans...
Economic historians, historians of economic thought, practitioners of political economy, and others are painting themselves blue with woad and practicing with staves after reading Stanford's David Kennedy's trashing of Paul Krugman

Quotations from Lost Legacy, Mark Thoma, Angry Bear, and Alex Tabarrock show a welcome consistency in criticising David M Kennedy (no relation!).

Up date: Brad Delong returns to the story with a damning revelation that David Kennedy’s reference to laissez faire as the litmus test of being an economist and shows this is not what AEA founding president Francis Amasa Walker actually said:

Ah. Stanford's David Kennedy Can't Quote Properly Either...
David Kennedy of Stanford opens his review of Paul Krugman's "Conscience of a Liberal" with a claim that AEA founding president Francis Amasa Walker defined an economist as a faithful believer in laissez-faire, “not... the test of economic orthodoxy, merely.... [But] used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.”
Why am I not surprised that Francis Amasa Walker actually said something very different?”
[Read the full extract and Francis Amasa Walker's actual speech here. ]

Absolute Nonsense on 'Digg' About Adam Smith

On a blog called ‘Digg’ (here) I found this in my in-box:

The Economics Nobel: Giving Adam Smith a Helping Hand

"Scottish philosopher Adam Smith asserted that when everyone acts out of self-interest, everyone will eventually benefit, as if a benevolent "invisible hand" molds the economy. Economists now know that view is naive: They can prove that in some situations, rational people will act in ways that leave everybody a loser. But such dreary outcomes can s….”

I am not quite sure what Digg is about and I half recognize the quotation as something published recently, but it most decidedly is not what Adam Smith said, though it is believed by many to be something he might have said.

It is not Adam Smith who was naïve about self interest leading to less than ’benevolent’ outcomes for ‘everyone’. In both Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations he was more than alert to the stupidity of that assumption or assetrtion.

In Moral Sentiments he majored heavily on the absolute need for a firm system of justice to deal with individuals acting in their self interest by tormenting neighbours, invading property, engaging in rapine and destruction, and generally pursuing their self interests which in the absence of justice would smash society 'to atoms'.

In Wealth Of Nations he gives over 50 instances in Books I, II, III, IV of instances where individuals act against the public interest in favour of forming monopolies, ‘conspiring’ to raise prices and of ‘clamouring’ to persuade the legislature to erect tariff protection at the expense of the majority of the population, apart from sovereigns engaging in wars for trivial ends from wrong notions of ‘jealousy of trade’.

Any notion that he believed for a second that ‘when everyone acts out of self-interest, everyone will eventually benefit’ is absurd and, frankly ignorant, and exposes the people who assert the nonsense as non-readers of either of his books, plus his Lectures in Jurisprudence, let alone his correspondence.

Modern ‘Economists’ were not the first to prove ‘that in some situations, rational people will act in ways that leave everybody a loser’. Adam Smith said so over 230 years ago. What do they think Adam Smith's Book IV of Wealth Of Nations was about?

That modern economists influenced by neoclassical attributions to Adam Smith of ideas he never held are surprised that game theorists have shown that people can act against others is really a comment on the non-historical approach they have to economics as a discipline.

I am sure their mathematical proofs of Adam Smith’s actual ideas are worthy of a Nobel Prize, and good luck to them, but we less deluded economists who know our intellectual history also know that acting in one’s self interest to the dis-benefit of others is not ‘irrational’ at all – it’s what people do and always have done, and probably always will do. Homo economicus does not exist except in the fertile imagination of the Chicago school.

Adam Smith advanced the proposition that if self interested individuals, acting in the self interest, wish to engage in the domestic business of ensuring their dinner was made available by the 'butcher, the brewer, and the baker', they had better address the self interests of these trades, not their own, and mediate their differences by the process of bargaining.

Selfish individuals can get their dinner only by coercion, or from the scraps made available by those with necessarily limited amounts of benevolence.

Only Jesus (allegedly) fed the multitude with loaves and fish; for mere mortals who do not have sufficient ingredients of dinner to feed many more than their families, they have to obtain what they want from others who want something from them. Smith called it bargaining, which is voluntary and non-coercive.

An Excellent Post by David Warsh on Economic Principals

David Warsh, who writes the Blog, Economic Principals, has featured on Lost Legacy, usually in the critical section, in mild disputes over Adam Smith. This difference between us is not serious nor personal (and having met David Warsh and heard him lecture, he personifies the American gentleman) and if you read what he writes beyond Adam Smith there is always a great deal of interesting good sense.

This is seen in his typically excellent article, An Enormous Pearl, a Little Giant, a Vanishing Hand,(here).

Ignore the ‘vanishing hand’ allusion for the moment and concentrate on his history of the life of Henry Poor (1812-1905) and its relevance to the study of the emerging forms of corporate capitalism, in Poor’s case via the Union Pacific Railroad and others.

Poor’s role as a careful business journalist and student of American business is linked to that of his great-grandson, Alfred Chandler Jr. (1918-2007), whose academic work (MIT, John Hopkins and Harvard) mapped the emergence of the ‘the large multidivisional corporation, not in one industry, but in many’ in Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise (1962) and The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business ( 1977), and “Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Enterprise -- A History 1880s-1940s (1990), "a comparative history of managerial capitalism in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany”.

Chandler continued working from what Warsh calls his ‘intellectual curiosity’ on the evident new trends ‘towards renewed entrepreneurial activity and the disruption of long-established industries only accelerated in the '90s, as Chandler labored on two last works, lively histories of the chemical and electronics industries in the twentieth century. By the time he finished, outsourcing, downsizing, upspeeding, leasing and other such practices had become the norm even in these venerable businesses’.

David Warsh’s account takes in a short history of business oriented magazines, beginning with Forbes, founded by B.C. Forbes (1917), of which James W. Michaels (1921-2007) was editor for 40 years, followed by Barrons in 1919, the Kiplinger Washington Letter in 1923, Business Week in 1929, and Fortune in 1930.

Of what relevance or interest are these matters to economists and social scientists generally? A great deal as it happens, for these sources of information are the contemporary biographies of modern industrial history and a 20th-century version of what Adam Smith was doing in the 18th century.

Economics without ‘looking outside your window’ at what is happening in business organization is like studying the mathematics of ‘72 concentric spheres’ and not looking at the sky at night. David Warsh partly agrees in that economists should do both: ‘Ultimately, though, neither history nor journalism is a satisfactory substitute for penetrating economics.’ I would concur to the extent that the penetrating economics bears a close resemblance to the reality of the world we live in.

For example, modern economics was always dominated by David Ricardo’s ‘law of diminishing returns’, a conclusion drawn from thinking about agricultural imperatives, which overshadowed Adam Smith’s emphasis on the increasing returns in the ‘trifling’ example of pin making, and misdirected economic theory for about 150 years (Alan Young’s 1929 article notwithstanding). That a serious contender for a Nobel Prize is Paul Romer for re-discovering, or rather integrating into the mathematical dreamland of neoclassical economics, increasing returns outlined in Wealth Of Nations in 1776, is a testimony to how far economics has metamorphosed into a subject with limited contact with reality.

Incidentally, Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling’s Blog (here) contains recent material tracking the increase in the output of pins worldwide, post 1800, to two plants producing all of Britain’s pins by the 1960s, in place of the hundreds in 1800, to a couple of plants in the US, where all ‘18’ operations of Smith’s time are undertaken by batteries of machines, supervised by one or two human operators.

David Wash’s Economic Principals (here)
performs a most useful role for keeping in touch with both the history of economics and the history of business organization. Which you choose to focus on is a matter of your predilection for theory or reality. Ignoring one at the expense of the other is not your best choice.

From ‘invisible hand’ to ‘visible hand’ to ‘vanishing hand’ in one post is an interesting progression. If it leads ultimately to studying markets, as Adam Smith did in Books I and II or Wealth Of Nations) and ignoring the monstrous edifice erected on a literary metaphor dropped into a sentence in Book IV, I shall be pleased.

Understanding how markets work is the first necessary task of economics students; that their tutors go on to mystify a perfectly understandable process with allusions to disembodied body parts, miraculous outcomes, and divine guidance, is regrettable. Pagan superstitions in science have no place.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Is David Kennedy 'the Stupidist Man Alive'?

There are several comments on economics Blogs on the review of Paul Krugman’s book, ‘The Conscience of a Liberal’ (W. W. Norton, October 2007, $25.95 or $15.57 from Amazon), by David Kennedy (positively no relation!), who is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University.

Brad Delong, doyen among economist bloggers (here), reviews Kennedy’s NYT's review without mercy:

Stanford's David M. Kennedy reveals that he is a serious contender for the "Stupidest Man Alive".’

Brad quotes Kennedy’s review of Krugman:

Paul Krugman is a justly renowned professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. His abundant accolades include the John Bates Clark Medal... a distinction... perhaps even more prestigious than... the Nobel.... [Y]et maybe Krugman is not really an economist — at least not according to the definition offered more than a century ago by Francis Amasa Walker, the first president of the American Economic Association, who wrote that laissez-faire “was... used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.” Most modern economists continue to celebrate Walker’s orthodoxy, and behind it, the classical doctrines of Adam Smith, whose fabled “invisible hand” regularly works wonders of production, distribution, innovation and efficiency, provided it is kept free of the meddlesome “nanny state.”... Krugman [is] the anti-economist...”

Brad concludes:

David Kennedy thus demonstrates that he (a) has never read Adam Smith, and (b) has little acquaintance with modern American economists--who are (like Adam Smith) much more interested in prescribing how the nanny state should meddle to be effective than in protecting the naked market from interference.”

First, a clarification on my part: I am not familiar with the ‘politics’ of the personalities who populate American academe and this includes where Paul Krugman stands on the continuum of ‘left – right’, ‘classical – neoclassical’ or ‘seriously competent – wildly not so’, and I cannot judge the accuracy of Brad Delong’s assertion, though as it is Brad’s assertion I am inclined to go along with it.

I treat what David Kennedy has written as they stand. That he quotes Francis Amasa Walker (1840 – 1897!) for his criterion of what constitutes and economist in 2007 suggests he is seriously out of touch, and that he associates Adam Smith with laissez faire supports this conclusion.

Adam Smith was not the author of what passes today as ‘classical doctrines’ (an impossibly broad tent covering Malthus, Ricardo and Marx, from among which I would snatch Adam Smith).

The sentence including, “Adam Smith, whose fabled “invisible hand”, gives the game away. David Kennedy, a professor of American history, refers to the ‘fable’ of the invisible hand, but it wasn’t a fable of Adam Smith’s making; for Smith it was merely a handy metaphor when explaining why opening a domestic market to foreign goods for consumption would lead to higher domestic investment, partly by the foreign products competing with domestic products and partly by the risk avoidance of local merchants preferring to invest their capital locally. As the arithmetical whole is the sum of its parts, if local merchants invest locally instead of abroad, domestic capital formation will be higher than otherwise.

For 18th-century readers of Wealth Of Nations (Book IV.ii.9: p456), who were not economists – more likely to be legislators and people who influence them – he summed this process after clearly explaining it by using a common 17th-18th-century literary metaphor of the invisible hand (see Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, Defoe’s ‘Moll Flanders’ or ‘Colonel Jack’, or Voltaire’s Oedipe: 'Tremble, unfortunate King, an invisible hand suspends above your head’; and ‘an invisible hand pushed away my presents’, etc.,).

The fable of the invisible hand has passed through the string of tenuous development, first as a ‘concept’, then as a ‘theory’, and finally, and banally, a ‘paradigm’!

Its origins are located in the environs of 51st Street, Chicago, and which has been propagated all over American academe, via its graduates and the media, until the fable is now regarded as the reality in all expositions of neoclassical general equilibrium theory (after Samuelson and Debreu) and sanctified by Nobel Prize winners from the Bank of Sweden.

I would expect an historian to know this, or at least to be interested in it.

David Kennedy’s review has received attention (scathingly) from ‘Angry Bear’ (here) and Mark Thoma (here)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Capitalist Competition is Better for the Environment than State Managed Poverty

Prometheus 6's blog (all respect and no restraint):
Under the title, ‘The damn book pile is too high already...’, ‘Prometheus 6's blog (all respect and no restraint)’, quotes an excerpt (here) from a New York Times review of Robert B. Reich’sSupercapitalism: The transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life’, Borzoi Books (Knopf Inc.):



The reviewer, or the author, runs two ideas together: that self interest does not lead to social betterment except in special cases (the gist of my criticism of the widespread neoclassical notion that Adam Smith said that self interest always leads to social betterment, which he didn’t) and that this competition leads firms to ‘remove filters from smokestacks’.

This second idea is not entirely, nor mostly true. Smoke filters are not fitted in countries and in times where ignorance prevails and the laws against pollution are not operable. The firm that removes a smoke filter when the law prescribes that they shall be fitted is breaking the law and is subject to judicial process.

Adam Smith was always clear that justice is the main pillar of commercial society. Pollution is not left as an option (any more than child labour is) in modern capitalist societies. It may be in early capitalist societies such as India, China and some other Asian countries, but not in the richer countries.

The reviewer or the author, recognizes that Adam Smith was aware, and said so, 50 plus times in fact, that self interest and selfishness lead to social worsening and not social betterment, and correctly points out that ‘modern disciples’ (mostly self proclaimed) of Adam Smith assert to the contrary, though we can rest assured that they have never read Wealth Of Nations beyond a few second-hand quotations.

Competition is not the root of ‘social ills’; it is their cure. Non-competitive societies, which are usually dictatorships, are always awash with social ills. Russia, China and the socialist countries are the worst polluters and resource wasters. Poverty itself is the worst social ill.

Rich capitalist countries can afford ‘CLEANER AIR AND WATER’ and do ‘ADOPT MORE STRINGENT ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS’ than poor countries. Why Robert Reich turns the heat on the rich capitalist countries, adding yet more opprobrium on the solution to the environmental problem, not its cause, is typical of the genre.

Lost Legacy Cited on Inheritance Tax

Occasionally, other Blogs cite Lost Legacy posts and I am always happy for them to do so, especially when it is from 'friendly' sources, such as today's ASI, though I have no objection to 'hostile' Blogs, of course.

The Adam Smith Institute (London) operates one of the larger economics Blogs in Europe, measured by 'hits', and also, if it was publishable, measured by its influence on legislators and people who influence them.

In its daily 'Round up', cites and links to my piece on Adam Smith and the inheritance tax debate in Britain both in parliamentary sessionjs and in this week's issue of The Spectator (London), which I discussed in yesterday's posting.

The Spectator posted my response on their comments facility to the article on their online edition (

Friday, October 19, 2007

'Benvolent' Invisible Hands Are a Neoclassical Invention not Adam Smith's Naivety

Adrian Cho in ScienceNOW Daily News (15 October) writes, ‘The Economics Nobel: Giving Adam Smith a Helping Hand’,(here):

Scottish philosopher Adam Smith asserted that when everyone acts out of self-interest, everyone will eventually benefit, as if a benevolent "invisible hand" molds the economy. Economists now know that view is naive: They can prove that in some situations, rational people will act in ways that leave everybody a loser. But such dreary outcomes can sometimes be avoided, thanks to work that today earned three Americans the Nobel Prize in economics.”

The fact is that Adam Smith did not assert ‘that when everyone acts out of self-interest, everyone will eventually benefit, as if a benevolent "invisible hand" molds the economy.’

This outrageous calumny is a fabrication by neoclassical economists, including winners of the prestigious economics version of the Nobel prize awarded by the Bank of Sweden each year, who by a tenuous slide of meaning use the assertion to give historical credibility to general equilibrium mathematical equations that do not correspond to the world we live in (and never have!).

For Adrian Cho to assert that ‘Economists now know that view is naïve’ exposes a consequential ignorance of what Adam Smith actually wrote about his use of the metaphor of the invisible hand. There are numerous postings on Lost Legacy that make this point and I refer readers to them.

The fact is that Adam Smith’s Wealth Of Nations is literally littered with his examples of significant instances of people ‘act[ing] out of self interest’ to the detriment of everyone else, and from Smith’s historical account it is clear that this has always been so. In Wealth Of Nations, Books I and II, which analyse how markets work in the world he lived in, how they have always worked, and still work, he provides 51 specific examples of the self-interests leading to results far short of them ‘benefiting’ anybody other than themselves.

This contrasts with the single use of the metaphor that has been interpreted variously by some classical and all neoclassical economists as a ‘concept’, a ‘theory’, and even a ‘paradigm’! Hence, this month’s winners of the Nobel prize for ‘economics science’ were not showing Adam Smith’s naivety for believing such assertions about self interest leading ‘always’, or ‘eventually’ to society benefiting.

They were correcting the neoclassical error believed with all the conviction of a religious belief beyond human understanding, as it must be because the role of self interest is well explained as a very human behaviour in both Moral Sentiments and Wealth Of Nations without the intervention of invisible body parts.

That some economists have found in the invisible hand the intervention of a god or a divine spirit in the literary metaphor that was common enough in the 17th and 18th centuries, and long before back into Greek and Roman times, reveals a most unscientific notion totally unexplained or explainable by them or other neoclassical economists.

The negative aspects of self interest when exercised by powerful rulers and monopolists (and polluters!) is indeed ‘dreary’, but it is also normal. Adam Smith's realisation of the prevalence of these historical norms led him to suggest measures, that would curtail them.

Necessarily, this implied legislative intervention - it wasn't going to happen otherwise - and that is why Wealth Of Nations was written to persuade legislators, and those who influenced them, to replace, slowly and gradually, the policies of mercantile political economy , to improve the progress towards opulence, which would reduce absolute poverty, partricularly among the majority of the population.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Disengenuous Defence of Inheritance Tax by a 'Non Dom'

Irwin Stelzer, a director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for the Sunday Times and The Spectator writes:

Listen to Adam Smith: inheritance tax is good” (Spectator, 17 October):

To meet the criteria of ‘evident justice and utility’, Adam Smith supported a tax on wealth inherited by children ‘who have got families of their own, and are supported by funds separate and independent of their father’. Which is why the Economist classifies Smith as one of the political economists ‘broadly in favour’ of the estate tax.”

I sent a short comment to the Spectator (London), quoting the reference made by Irwin Stelzer (not given by the columnist):

The death of a father, to such of his children as live in the same house with him, is seldom attended with any increase, and frequently with a considerable diminution of revenue, by the loss of his industry, of his office, or of some life-rent estate of which he may have been in possession.

That tax would be cruel and oppressive which aggravated their loss by taking from them any part of his succession. It may, however, sometimes be otherwise with those children who, in the language of the Roman law, are said to be emancipated; in that of the Scotch law, to be forisfamiliated; that is, who have received their portion, have got families of their own, and are supported by funds separate and independent of those of their father. Whatever part of his succession might come to such children would be a real addition to their fortune, and might therefore, perhaps, without more inconveniency than what attends all duties of this kind, be liable to some tax.”
[WN V.ii.h .4: ‘Appendix to Article I and II’: p 859]

Adam Smith discusses inheritance tax with his usual historical method to give I context. He begins with Roman law and continues through the ‘Scotch’law. In his comments come after differentiating between inheritance while the children still live at home and for them such a tax would be ‘cruel and oppressive’.

Next he discusses the case where the children have left home and set up their own homes. In the former case there is no doubt at his abhorrence of a ‘cruel and oppressive tax’; in the second case he speaks tentatively: they ‘might therefore, perhaps, without more inconveniency than what attends all duties of this kind, be liable to some tax’.

It is fair to assert that ‘might therefore, perhaps’ are less than enthusiastic endorsement on inheritance tax, especially if laid alongside his description of the other inheritance tax as 'cruel and opporessive'.

The context in which Smith discussed the ‘evident justice and utility’ of taxation did not include income tax anything like on the scale that it is in the 21st century. In fact there was none, contrasted with 40 percent income tax and 11 per cent National Insurance (= 51 per cent). To which we can add: Council Tax, Valued Added Tax (17.5 per cent), Fuel Tax, and scores of (stealth) taxes. The Excise has always been with us, plus Stamp Duties. In this context it is difficult to see why Stelzer is so sure of Adam Smith’s support for all inheritance tax.

Turn the page of Wealth Of Nations and Smith comments, with stunning relevance to the current government’s tax policies:

There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people’ (WN V.ii.h.12: p 861)

It may be linked to the status of Irwin Stelzer as a ‘non-dom’ (non-domiciled), or someone earmarked by the Conservatives to be taxed to pay for the raising of the inheritance tax threshold to estates worth £1 million, which attracts 40 per cent tax.

I am not suggesting that his personal circumstances influence his judgement (heaven forbid), but I am suggesting that Irwin Stelzer is less than candid about Adam Smith’s views in their proper context.

Incidentally, Emperor Augustus imposed an inheritance tax of 5 per cent, not 40 per cent.

A Rare Mention of Adam Smith That is Accurate

Michael Miller writes for the Acton Institute (here): ‘Who’s Afraid of Free Trade?’ and includes the following:

Few things are better for economic growth than free trade. Adam Smith demonstrated the mutual benefit of trade with his famous example of the brewer, butcher, and baker. The butcher has more than enough meat, so he trades it for beer and bread, and vice versa. When people are allowed to trade, everyone is better off. The same thing that happens in a city market takes place globally. Global markets allow more people to trade more goods and services, increasing the amount of goods and lowering prices. Trade creates opportunities for farmers and producers in the developing world and creates more markets for U.S. producers to sell their wares abroad.”

Correct. Be even better if the USA and Europe did not practise protectionism for their farmers to keep out ‘developing world’ exports of food and other produce, for them to earn dollars to buy manufactured goods and technology from America and Europe.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Authentic Adam Smith at the Tuesday Club

Last evening I attended a monthly dinner club meeting of the appropriately named ‘Tuesday Club’, the format of which was as ‘speaker’, I spoke for 20 minutes on what was billed by the chairman, Michael Fryer, an historian of credible reputation, as ‘Adam Smith in the 21st Century’.

The unusual format, which worked perfectly well, was for the speaker, during the serving of the first course (‘salmon fish cake with rocket leaves, lemon and paprika mayonnaise), to speak to a theme, and then those present are invited in turn to speak and pose their questions, also during the serving and eating of the rest of the dinner: main course (breast of pheasant with apple and rhubarb stuffing, colcannon potato, sweet (white caramel apple pie upside-down cake with vanilla ice cream)and coffee (and dark chocolate truffle), assisted by generous amounts of red or white wine (and a champagne starter). I stuck to orange juice as I do not partake of alcohol while working. Initially, I didn’t stick closely to the chairman’s chosen theme, but the questions led me that way.

The members of the Tuesday Club (running its monthly meetings for ten years) are interested in and are contributors to intellectual discourse from many walks of life (academics, professionals, business managers, politicians, authors, journalists, plus, last night, a young PR professional – is that a spin doctor?). The manners of their discourse were impeccable – nobody raised their voice; nobody was emotionally distraught, and nobody did other than listen politely, and the chairman, Michael Fry, conducted the affair with a calm dignity and impressive light touch.

It was fascinating to find a small coven of civilised human discourse in Edinburgh, which I felt as an echo of what was the norm in the Scottish Enlightenment, when Adam Smith attended his many club from the informal Oyster Club, where he, Adam Ferguson and the others adjourned after dinner to a side room for claret, beer, and conversation, while the other diners turned to singing and dancing with lady servers, allegedly of a willing disposition, to the more sedate and bewigged meetings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh to listen and comment to serious papers on science (natural and literary) in that age of great hope and anticipation. The long dining room table of the Stack Polly Restaurant, Grindlay Street, added to the historic atmosphere perfectly.

The Tuesday Club is right-of-centre politically. There were conservatives, libertarians and classical liberals present among the 20 diners (one attendee had given a lift to Murray Rothbard!). In my remarks I concentrated first on the authentic Adam Smith, a subject touched on many times here Lost Legacy.

His backward looking perspective to the revival of commerce from the 15th century, his analysis of the evolution of the propensity to ‘truck, barter, and exchange’, the cradle-to-grave urge to self-betterment, the division of labour, the foundations and extent of markets and the ‘slow and gradual’ growth towards opulence. His Moral Sentiments was about the harmony-producing sympathy of each to others in society, and Wealth Of Nations was a critique of mercantile political economy, and not a text book on economics.

In the long sweep of history, the key number was not the ‘average per capita income’ (Gregory Clark), which remained low and unchanged for millennia, but from the gross income of society (GDP), large enough proportions of which were extracted as surplus over average subsistence by the powerful, from which they built the stone civilisations that came and went cyclically for 10,000 years. Sadly, beyond sentiment, the history of the poor was not decisive. When all are poor, they all remain poor for always. Meanwhile, as a minority grew richer, knowledge accumulated, technology and innovation slowly spread, and capital formed.

The mid-18th century was the time where this underlying trend was visible and understood; meanwhile the rest of humanity across the world (Africa, Australia, the Americas) remained in Smith's Age of Hunting, equal but poor; even the powerful in these societies had fewer artefacts than an employed common labourer in 18th century Scotland.

Britain, a thousand years after the fall of Rome, re-reached Smith's Age of Commerce, along with other Western European societies, but all of them fell victim to the notions of mercantile fallacies (jealousy of trade, protectionism, wars for trivial ends, colonies and institutional monopolies) all of which distorted natural economic growth and delayed the spread and deepening of commercial societies, which in due course would raise the opulence of the employed poor and draw into commerce the unemployed destitute and abject poor of which those societies abounded.

This thought haunted and sometimes agitated Adam Smith.

Wealth Of Nations addressed these problems; it is not about laissez-faire; 19th-century corporate capitalism; or minimal ‘night watchman’ state activities. Its paradigm is not the ‘invisible hand’ metaphor; it is about letting markets work, within the law, and using funding from taxation, beyond the need for defence (which costs less than fighting unnecessary wars or suffering invasion), and justice (the main pillar of society), for the necessary role of public works and projects to facilitate commerce, including for the education of all children.

During the dinner a most active set of contributions and questions flowed as impressively as the dinner and drink was served with smooth efficiency by the restaurant’s staff. Subjects raised included the role of property, Adam Smith’s politics, his religious affiliation, the labour theory of value, the East India Company, formation of prices, the invisible hand, what Smith might have thought about the current Prime Minister (also from Kirkcaldy), Smith’s attitude to the Guilds, ‘Das Adam Smith Problem’, Eamonn Butler’s recent primer on Adam Smith (an ‘excellent read’), why the rich should pay more tax than the poor, flat tax, the role of self interest, Smith’s ‘different’ account of the division of labour in Books I and V, and his version of laissez faire.

Now I defy anybody to say that they have participated in such a well-informed audience with such a range of subjects related to Adam Smith at a dinner in a restaurant. The time passed swiftly and there was not a moment where the audience flagged in their enthusiasm to keep probing into, what most admitted was completely new territory regarding Adam Smith and his authentic views.

I realised why the Tuesday Club has lasted eleven years and why it is still going strong. I also saw why right-of-centre political philosophy and ideas remain lively and thriving in Edinburgh, but remain perplexed as to why the right-of-centre parties seem to be so marginalised in Scottish political life.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Maynard Keynes Would Have Benefited from Reading Adam Smith Instead of Repeating Distortions of His Legacy

I reported yesterday that I had read the first three chapters of Paul Davidson’s John Maynard Keynes’ ( Palgrave, 2007: Great Thinkers in Economics; series editor, Tony Thirlwall). I turned to Chapter 4 shortly afterwards and was confronted with assertions by Paul Davidson which I found disappointing. (True, he has not yet read my manuscript on Adam Smith!)

Let me explain. Davidson’s argument about Keynes is developed against a background in which Keynes’ criticism of prevailing economic policy is labelled as an alternative to ‘classical’ economics, in particular the notion of laissez faire, that is, that governments should not interfere in markets or non-performing economies for any reason. Davidson is correct, but goes further.

Classical economics is identified with a fallacious set of policies attributed to ‘the founding fathers of classical economics such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo’ and ‘although the phrase laissez faire does not appear’ in their books, nevertheless ‘the idea is there’. (Davidson, P. 2007: p 22) This erroneous academic consensus on Smith’s legacy continued long after the ‘General Theory’ (1936).

Davidson captures Keynes’ exasperation with the notion of laissez faire as practised by British (post-First World War) and American (post-the 1929 Great Depression) governments, and by 19th-century governments, influenced by the ‘Manchester School’, and John Stuart Mill. Prejudices in favour of laissez-faire ruled in practice and in the universities. But these ideas had little to do with Adam Smith.

All economics courses need to study the history of economic ideas and methods to avoid the glaring error of attributing laissez-faire to Adam Smith, thus giving it an undeserved and uncritical authority. If they had read Adam Smith correctly (in many cases, sadly, if they had read him at all!), the Smithian alternative to laissez faire would have been in contention, instead of the field being left to the socialist and Marxist criticism that regarded markets as the problem, and not the Smithian solution.

Paul Davidson offers supporting evidence from Adam Smith, which he says is ‘in his 1776 classic, The Wealth Of Nations’, where Adam Smith wrote:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the bakers that we expect our dinner, but from regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self love, and never talk to them of our necessities, but of their advantage … Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed and not that of society which he has in view …. He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which is no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he intends to promote it.’

The sole reference given for this quotation is: ‘Smith, 1776, p 14’.

Now anybody reading the quotation, and knowing nothing about Wealth Of Nations, would conclude that the ten-line quotation came from ‘page 14’ of Wealth Of Nations, when in fact only the first three-and-a-half lines come from the page 14 (Wealth Of Nations, ed. Canaan, 1937; or find them in Book I, Chapter 2, pp 26-27, Glasgow edition, 1976) These lines refer to bargaining behaviour, not laissez faire, and do not refer to the pursuit of self-interest as interpreted by classical economics; Adam Smith was at pains to stress the need to mediate self interest by addressing the self interest of others. (Search Lost Legacy for many discussions of this very point).

The other six-and-a-half-lines come from a different section of Wealth Of Nations (Book IV. ii. 9. p 456), and refer to the quite different subject of the risk avoidance of merchants, if freed from import protection.

Does this matter? Very much so, because Keynes’ history of laissez faire and self interest only repeated what orthodox economists presumed solely by repetition, to which Paul Davidson added the link to the ‘invisible hand’, which Adam Smith referred to only once in Wealth Of Nations in Book IV, but not in connection with his theory of the origins of the propensity ‘truck, barter, and exchange’, and his theories of how markets work (Books I and II).

Davidson promotes Adam Smith’s use of a common literary metaphor in 17th-18th century literature to the high status of a ‘paradigm’, possibly the slimmest of foundations for any paradigm in any known science.

Keynes’ critique of what he called classical economics stands fairly solid without him having to make any obligatory reference to the quite different purposes of Wealth Of Nations, which by doing he distorts Adam Smith’s legacy in the midst of exposing 21st-century distortions of Keynes’ legacy.

Consider briefly what Adam Smith wrote in Wealth Of Nations, how might we explain why such distortions are important and why, by refraining from them, we also achieve a better insight into the problems that Maynard Keynes addressed, which are still with us?

Wealth Of Nations is an historical (backward looking) account of how Britain’s commercial economy revived from the 15th century to its slow and gradually growing opulence in the second half of the 18th century. He did not project these trends into the 19th century (with the exception of predicting that North American would be the dominant economic power within a 'hundred years’).

Book I and II are about the evolution of the commercial ‘age’ from ‘hunting’, which large parts of the world were still stuck in, towards opulence, where the division of labour and expanding markets were slowly enriching (unequally) societies in Western Europe.

The difference in living standards, not measured by per capita income, though that was slowly changing, but by the gross income of society, between hunting and commercial societies was observable in the lack of accoutrements of the ‘savage’ hunter compared to those possessed by the poorest employed common labourer in Europe. And Europe also showed the detritus of stone monuments of past and current civilisations not found in any scale, or at all, in the ‘new worlds’ of the hunters in Africa, the Americas, and Australia. He explained how commercial societies worked through markets and how (primitive) economic growth was sourced in the net profits of undertakers, renting land and hiring labour in commerce and agriculture.

Book III is a short history of the evolution of economies (much of it expanded from his Lectures in Jurisprudence, and the ‘Early Draft’ in the 1760s). Book IV is a polemic and detailed analysis of the how ruling governments in Europe distorted market relationships in monopolistic town markets, protectionist national policies exacerbated by the jealousies of trade, formed monopoly colonies and trading companies, engaged in fruitless wars (£170 million spent of wars against the French), crippled free labour markets with oppressive legislation and undermined the ‘Perfect Liberty’ of the population (a concept from jurisprudence, not perfect competition).

Smith considered the colonial ventures in North America as a major brake on the natural evolution of markets in Britain and Europe and sourced the problem in the legislatures and among those who influenced them. His model of a distorted economy is made explicit in Book IV.

His critique of mercantile political economy was against those forms of government intervention that were influenced by and for the private benefit of special interest groups, whose exercise of their self-interest led to a lowering of society’s ‘wealth’, which was the annual output of ‘the necessaries, the conveniences, and the amusements of life’.

In Books I and II, he gives over 50 instances of where individual self interest undermines society’s economic growth, few, if any, of which are ever quoted with the same frequency as the single ‘invisible hand’ metaphor in Book IV by those keen to link Adam Smith to the all powerful, even invisible, drive of people exercising their so-called 'beneficial' self interest, from which leaving them alone to rip off from the public higher prices and profits is 'legitimised' in Adam Smith's name! This is a corruption of Smith’s legacy.

Smith did not favour laissez faire (he never mentioned it), nor did he oppose all government intervention (see Book V of Wealth Of Nations), and nor did he consider that free markets (or ‘Perfect Liberty’) were a necessary or sufficient condition for progress towards opulence (see WN IV.ix.28: p 674). In this rebuttal, Adam Smith referred by name to Dr Quesnay and Physiocrats, some of whom advocated laissez faire and were its original source. To link Smith to laissez faire is a major error of attribution.

His view was that if people were left to place their capital where they could make a profit, and were free to ply their trades as labourers where they could earn a wage, then economic growth would be augmented above what it was likely to be where governments, monopolists, protectionists and such like attempted to do this for them.

But note, he stated that in the absence of freedoms to do what they might otherwise do, society still made progress (Book IV). There were circumstances where governments which provided the capital for public projects to aid commerce (Book V), identifying harbours, canals, viaducts, roads, civic amenities such as pavements, street lighting and rubbish removal, as well as police, and, most significantly, public education of all children – a ‘little school in every parish’, all 60,000 of them!), would assist the progress to opulence. Smith’s was not a laissez-faire agenda, and nor was it a socialist charter. The prerequisite for continuing progress was the existence of active commercial markets. Also, public funding did not mean public management (that's a 20th century trade union 'achievement').

Where private capital was too risk averse, or where it would be unprofitable, he saw a role for government-funded activities. Consistent with these 18th-century thoughts, it is not beyond safe sense to see how Adam Smith’s approach could be applied to the kind of 20th and 21st-century problems identified by Maynard Keynes and others in certain circumstances.

If modern economists read what Adam Smith actually wrote and resisted rummaging around second-hand selected quotations of what he is alleged to have written, it could be that his Works and approach might prove a fruitful source in the study of the consequences of the continuity of mercantile political economy that has so bedevilled the recent history of Europe and North America.

I should add this is a specific criticism of Paul Davidson’s attributions to Adam Smith in support of Maynard Keynes’ misattribution to him of the Manchester School’s version of laissez faire and the beneficial effects of over riding self-interest, in common with the dominant ideas of the 20th century. It is not a criticism of Paul Davidson’s excellent presentation of Maynard Keynes’ original ideas expressed in The General Theory, with which I concur from what I have read so far.