Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some Comments on Quotations from Adam Smith

‘wipeltz’ writes in Daily Kos, (‘the state of the nation’) 22 October, HERE:

"Adam Smith, socialist? The search for the Historical Adam

Very possibly, some of the original text has been corrupted during its various editions . Did the Historical Adam really prefigure the class analysis that showed up later in Karl's Manifesto to the Exploited?

Most notably and possibly inserted much later, under the influence of Karl's Manifesto:

"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all."

Adam Smith taught at Glasgow University from 1751-64 and some students in his class took detailed notes of his lectures, which were found in two versions in 1895 and 1958 in two separate places (Oxford and Inverness), and were published as his Lectures in Jurisprudence (Glasgow Edition, OUP) in 1978).

Many parts of the lectures were taken verbatim into Wealth Of Nations. He accounts for the origins of post-hunting societies such as shepherding andifarming, both of which require property rights if they are to become established. This happened in parts of and the Near East (from 11,000 years ago) and Western Europe (from 8,000 – 6,000 years ago).

Those parts of the world that did not evolve property (most of North and South America, Africa, South Asia and Australia, but not North Africa, Arabia, India, and China) remained hunter-gatherer societies until the 20th century, with a few remaining isolated instances today.

With property came civil government to protect it against the poor, hence Smith’s statements. He could have added, because it certainly became a feature of history, protection against jealous rich families who eyed the property of rich neighbours. These were the origins of law and justice.

"All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." [WN III.iv.10: p 418]

This is a part of Smith’s account of the withering away of the power of the feudal lords, and how their vileness was the author of their downfall.

It is perhaps best understood by quoting the whole paragraph (better still read the chapter):

But what all the violence of the feudal institutions could never have effected, the silent and insensible operation of foreign commerce and manufactures gradually brought about. These gradually furnished the great proprietors with something for which they could exchange the whole surplus produce of their lands, and which they could consume themselves without sharing it either with tenants or retainers. All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. As soon, therefore, as they could find a method of consuming the whole value of their rents themselves, they had no disposition to share them with any other persons. For a pair of diamond buckles, perhaps, or for something as frivolous and useless, they exchanged the maintenance, or what is the same thing, the price of the maintenance of a thousand men for a year, and with it the whole weight and authority which it could give them. The buckles, however, were to be all their own, and no other human creature was to have any share of them; whereas in the more ancient method of expence they must have shared with at least a thousand people. With the judges that were to determine the preference this difference was perfectly decisive; and thus, for the gratification of the most childish, the meanest, and the most sordid of all vanities, they gradually bartered their whole power and authority.” [WN III.iv.10P 418]


Blogger Brother Billy said...

Thanks for providing more context. I'll use your site as a source.

My use of "the Historical Adam" in the Daily Kos piece was a take-off on the Jesus Seminar and the search for the Historical Jesus. In contrast to those 'liberal' scholars, Biblical inerrantists proclaim the inerrancy of the "original texts" and assert that things that don't fit with their convictions might well be later corruptions of the text.

Naturally, any linking of Smith to Marx and "Karl's Manifesto" would be intolerable to such folks and and would require a pious retreat into denial.

6:29 pm  
Blogger Brother Billy said...

I forgot to ask you for the source of the quote that I wasn't able to find: the one about Adam Smith's argument that owners of capital would willingly, in the interests of domestic industry, forego the possibility of earning the higher profits that might be made by investing in foreign industries. Patriotic sentiment should trump narrowly economic rationality.

That's a far cry from transnational profit maximization. Evidently, the light is beginning to dawn on Alan Greenspan. He says his cherished econometric models no longer work.

8:35 pm  

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