Monday, February 18, 2008

Some students have long memories….

At the weekend I came across at a report from the Sunday Times in August 2004 with the following paragraph, which I hadn’t seen before:

Gavin Kennedy, the former Scottish Nationalist Party economics spokesman, used to tell Strathclyde first-year economics students: “Statistics are like a bikini, what they reveal is interesting, but what they hide is essential.”

‘First-year economics’ places it between 1973-79, or roughly 30+ years ago. I was mainly interested in defence economics at the time (‘Military in the Third World’, Duckworth, 1974; ‘Defense Economics’, Faber & Faber, 1975; ‘Burden Sharing in NATO’, Duckworth 1997).

In fact, it was from an impromptu meeting with Andrew Skinner in 1973 (since recently retired from the Adam Smith Chair in Political Economy at the University of Glasgow) that led me to read Wealth Of Nations for the first time to follow up on his comments on Smith’s ‘strange’ attitude towards the protectionist Navigation Acts and his observation that ‘defence was more important than opulence’.

However, I am impressed with the student’s memory. Not all lecture experiences are incredibly dull and de-motivating. I think we all have memorable lines from some of the lectures we sat through that we can recall. The main thing is how much of what was covered in the dull ones did we recall when we were examined?


Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you, but I’m not sure I’ve come to an “unwarranted and erroneous conclusion.” If I did, than you are also suggesting Gary Becker–a Nobel Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner–did as well.

Smith describes his “little finger” and China bit and goes on to change his tone. That’s true. He says:

“It is not the love of our neighbour, it is not the love of mankind, which upon many occasions prompts us to the practice of those divine virtues. It is a stronger love, a more powerful affection, which generally takes place upon such occasions; the love of what is honourable and noble, of the grandeur, and dignity, and superiority of our own characters.”

His point seems to be clear and direct. We do not serve others–i.e. “neighbour” or “mankind”–because we love them, we do so because of honor, dignity and “superiority of our own characters.” Notice he is still saying we don’t do good for others because we like them, we do good for others because of our love for ourselves. We are pompous creates who are concerned about our own dignity and self worth.

I don’t see how anyone could read it any other way. And yes, I own copies of both Adam Smith's great works, but I'll admit to only reading Wealth of Nations. You have me there.

Gary Becker, myself and others read it differently than you. Yes, people appeal to other people's interest in order to help themselves. That's true. But why do we appeal to other people's interests in the first place? Is is not because we are just trying to satisfy our own interests?

All intellectuals I know of read it like Becker and myself. Just check your typical Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, Thomas DiLorenzo, etc. books.

Thank you, and I'll plan to continue reading your blog, although I'm sure we still disagree.

9:15 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home