Friday, October 12, 2007

Now We Have an 'Invisible Fist' as a 'Buddy'!

Angry Economist (here)
presents a paragraph for what I hope is purely for rhetorical effect and not because he believes in invisible body parts, much as ancient savages and educated religious people believed in invisible gods:

The Invisible Fist of the Market

Free markets avoid a whole world of hurt. The invisible fist of freedom does it for us. When you can't coerce people into buying your product, or selling you theirs, many bad outcomes simply never happen.

Isn't it great having a big invisible buddy on your side? Unfortunately, he's easily offended by well-meaning acts of coercion. If you're not careful, he can invisibly slip away and you won't realize he's gone until you need him. Just a cautionary note. Don't assume that free markets will protect you if you've allowed them to become state-controlled markets

This is really sad. A common 17th and 18th-century literary metaphor that Adam Smith used for the irresistible subsistence distribution, which rich landlords had no choice but to do in self preservation (Moral Sentiments) and for the risk aversion (Wealth Of Nations) of merchants, has been metamorphosed by modern economists from a disembodied body part into a tangible presence in real world markets. Smith did not use the metaphor in his analysis of markets.

Angry economist makes the metaphor (something that never existed) into ‘big invisible buddy’ whom, he asserts, is on our side! More, the invisible ‘buddy’ can (I kid you not) ‘invisibly slip away and you won't realize he's gone until you need him’. If he’s invisible is ‘he’ (note the gender identification) like the wind, felt and heard but not seen?

Why do bright people, including Nobel Prize winners, purvey this nonsense? The ignorant have an excuse. What is your excuse for believing in ghosts?

Has the modern Chicago-influenced economist returned to the intellectual ignorance of the pagan believer in superstition, against whom Smith mocked in his 'juvenile' ‘History of Astronomy’ essay?

The ‘pagans’ had an excuse for believing in Jupiter’s ‘invisible hand’, which was a religious belief in the ‘invisible’ but powerful god, manifested in a stone statue, glowering over Rome from the Capitoline Hill and for which public disbelief in his role as protector of the Emperor was punishable by a ghastly Roman death.

Is the conventional religion of invisible hands equally powerful in that it means scholarly ‘death’ from asserting that the Emperor is naked? Is the pernicious tenure system worth the prostitution of academic integrity by publicly affirming that markets are ruled by a disembodied spirit when you know how they work and so did Adam Smith (Books I and II of Wealth Of Nations, neither of which mentions invisible hands, feet or fists)?

Is economics a science or a cult?

Sometimes I wonder.

[You can receive a copy of my paper, ‘Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand: from metaphor to myth’, by mailing me at gk aT ebs Dot hw (dOt) ac (doT) uk. Your address is deleted after the paper is posted; you will not receive any other mail unless you ask me separately]


Blogger Russ Nelson said...

I am reluctant to comment here, because it might encourage your pureile fascination with the invisible hand. Perhaps I know quite well Smith was saying "as if", and are merely following up with "and as if". But no, your lack of imagination leads you to take my metaphor seriously, as if you ACTUALLY BELIEVE I THINK I HAVE AN INVISIBLE BUDDY. Pathetic, you're just pathetic.

3:47 am  

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