Friday, April 25, 2008

A Hollywood Student Reads Wealth Of Nations

‘McGarmott’ describes himself/herself as a ‘Young, naively ambitious and embarassingly inexperienced Malaysian film student in Hollywood, CA’ (where else?) and writes on his Blog: ‘CINEMATIC CONCERNS’ and has posted this month on Adam Smith:

Summary On First Dozen Or So Pages Of The Wealth Of Nations
Okay, so I'm starting to read Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Go on, laugh.

Chapter I contains that econ cliche about a single pinmaker scarcely able to make 20 pins a day, "perhaps not one, even", while ten pinmakers practicing division of labour can produce up to 48,000. Then there is one amazingly-written, must-be-seen-to-be-believed, huge paragraph which seems doggedly intent in proving that no one person can survive alone economically, with an example of the woolen coat, the production of which is facilitated by such diverse professions as the shepherd, dyer, dresser, merchants, sail-makers, mill, miner, timber-feller, brickmaker + bricklayer, (and just when you think you've definitely gotten the point) the forger, the smith, the bedmaker, the baker, etc. And believe me when I say that is an abbreviated list of professions Mr Smith throws at us.

Chapter II explains why division of labour happens. Coz of humans' tendency to trade/barter. Huh? Well, it's the idea that people have talents (tendency to be better at one particular thing than the rest). And then he goes on to state, rather intriguingly, that in the modern debate of nature vs nurture, he subscribes to the latter. Anyway, long story short, humans trade and make contracts. Dogs don't. Humans practice division of labour. You don't see the mastiff, greyhound, spaniel or shepherd's dog (why on Earth did he call them that?) [GK: because these were common dog breeds in 18th century Scotland] use their stereotypical advantages to assist each other in the service of canine progress.

Chapter III makes the point that division of labour is limited by the size of the market. In a nice little hamlet somewhere remote (say, the Scottish Isles where I once cycled) [GK: An excellent choice of outdoor activity in one’s youth!] , there is no point in splitting up the tasks of a pinmaker to produce 48,000 x 365 pins a year when they'll barely use one day's worth in as much days.

Well, I guess the thing I'm just beginning to realise, is that books by Adam Smith and other great economists like Thomas Malthus and Thorstein Veblen aren't meant to be dry textbooks (as hard as they are to read) ... in fact, not meant to be textbooks, period. [GK: Absolutely right!] They're all just observations, no pretensions about trying to prove a point. (Apparently Veblen just lists his cynical and often ironic observations without explaining why or how or even bothering to prove his point. But I'll mention that when I get there.) Certainly they didn't try to be mathematical, like ALL FREAKING ECONS TEXTBOOKS these days. Mostly that's why I thought I should take the time to actually read these texts. Even though most econ students (and possibly a good number of our lecturers) never bothered to read them completely.

I think this is called a ‘treatment’ in the cinematic profession. It is one better than, as ‘McGarmott’ puts it: ‘most econ students (and possibly a good number of our lecturers) never bothered to read them completely,’ How true!

So praise is in order at least for reading so far and, judging by the more recent posts, so diligently, with, albeit, a lightness of touch that is somewhat ‘O’Rourke –ian’ in style.

It would be inviduous to subject the above and the subsequent posts in the series so far to a critical treatment – Hollywood treatments and indeed their scripts, are beyond criticism. It is perfectly legitimate in Hollywood to change stories, reverse the order of events, invent new historial characters, change the plot, make the villians honest and the honest despicable, all in pursuit of producing a good story, that sells to a cash-paying audience and wins prizes for the performers.

With which I have no quarrel. John Nash in Beautiful Mind invents a version of Adam Smith (critised in archived posts on Lost Legacy) and Hollywood’s treatments of William Bligh of Bounty fame reached travesties of historical fact that even some historians came to believe, but, let’s face it, they made for great entertainment (especially Charles Laughton’s 1930s version of Captain Bligh).

Visit his Blog and judge for yourself (HERE). It is well written and bodes well for “McGarmott’s” future Hollywood career … and in this case without disorting the facts too much, and which, as written, is well within the bounds of more fussy academic respectability.

Certainly, even now, he knows more about Adam Smith than his econ tutors!


Blogger McGarmott said...

Wow, a whole blog just for Adam Smith.

Let me clarify something - before I went to Hollywood, I studied Economics at Warwick in the UK. No sane Hollywood industry person would ever touch The Wealth of Nations - or even know who Adam Smith is to begin with. I just started reading the texts as I wanted to reconnect with my Economic roots. Though as I mentioned in my latest post, I'm giving it a rest for the moment ... disappointing, I know.

O'Rourke is wonderful.

1:26 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Hi McGarmott
Thanks for your comment and clarification.

Warwick U is a respectable economics course, though like all neoclassical courses is more mathematical than how an economy actually works.

Of course, I recomment that you keep reading and making notes of Wealth Of Nations - slowly, of course.

Books III and IV are crucial to understanding what Smith was on about - he made a study of contemporary UK mercantile policy, which you have already figured was not an economics textbook.

Trawl through Lost Legacy archives for some assistance.

Meanwhile, worry not that Hollywood knows nothing about Adam Smith (or Captain Bligh). That is no what Holywood is about either - it's about entertainment - and it doesn't ever need to 'know' about its subjects other than how to make them strike a chord with its customers.


5:36 am  

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