Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Post Commented Upon - and my Reply

Mark Thoma, Professor of Economics, University of Oregon, writes the popular Economist’s View (HERE):

Yesterday Mark Thoma posted my piece (21 August) on the exciting (to me) news about:

“Warren Samuels on the "Invisible Hand" from the Coordinating Problem Blog (18 August) (HERE):

Gavin Kennedy has been trying to extinguish the invisible hand myth for some time now”:
Warren Samuels on the "Invisible Hand," Adam Smith's Lost Legacy: More good news on Warren Samuels new book in the publisher’s blurb, posted in the Coordinating Problem Blog (here):
The post, “Warren Samuels (1933-2011)”, is by Peter Boettke of George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and the academic home of my friendly sparing partner on the “invisible hand”, Daniel Klein. (and etc.,)

To which a reader at Economist’s View commented (24 August):

"Reality Bites said...

So the concept and meaning of "invisible hand" has changed over the years, so what? This is typical of most ideas that are important to societies. In fact, crucial notions HAVE to change in order to remain relevant to the current society while still offering a link to the past.

A friend who is a professor of history wrote his thesis on Civil War re-enactments and how they've changed over time. Both the reasons for re-enactments and how they are perceived has also changed. Another example is the Confederate flag, what it means and the values represented have consistently changed as society has changed.

"that several dozen identities given the invisible hand renders the term ambiguous and inconclusive"

Gee you mean like the terms freedom, liberty, love, and honor?
Many terms are so broad and grand that they have multiple meanings and cannot be pinned to a single definition. I would argue that our most important ideas and concepts fit that description.

We do not live in a static world. Ask any linguist and they'll tell you words and meanings change all the time as long as the language is alive. Why should we be astonished that the concept of the invisible hand has changed? This new book is obviously political commentary posing as some sort of research

And to which I posted a short to reality Bites reply today:
(August 25)

"The point you make is valid about concepts changing, but the fact also remains true that Adam Smith's use of the metaphor did not/cannot change - he died in 1790. What is illegitimate is the attribution to Adam Smith of ideas he never held.

The myth that Adam Smith had a 'concept' or 'theory' of 'an invisible hand' is absolutely untrue. He used it as a metaphor for something else, known in the English language as 'its 'object', in Moral Sentiments (1759) for the actions of feudal landlords and in Wealth Of Nations (1776) for the risk-aversion of some, but not all, merchants in protectionist Britain (remember he taught Rhetoric to his classes from 1748 to 1751 in Edinburgh and from 1752-64 in Glasgow) and and knew the proper role of metaphors, and always used good English grammar, in everything he wrote.

The myth was invented within an oral tradition (what lecturers taught their students in Cambridge in England) and Chicago in the USA) about Adam Smith. Paul Samuelson, a graduate of Chicago, popularised the myth about Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' in his famous textbook from 1948.

It is its attribution to Adam Smith that is the problem, because this gave the myth credibility (now widely believed in economics) and gave the modern policy implications of the myth its traction in government practices and beliefs, with, arguably, negative consequences.

That makes the debate important, not trivial.”

I ignored the last sentence of “Reality Bites”:

"This new book is obviously political commentary posing as some sort of research".

This description by “Reality Bites” of the work of Warren Samuels as "political commentary posing as some sort of research" is only worthy of the following appropriate comment:

When ignorance predominates, vulgarity asserts itself



Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

NB: This comment was wrongly deleted (I thought i pressed 'publish')!:

You mean "sparring," right? Please feel free to edit and delete this comment.

8:42 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I am not sure what you mean. Please explain - to avoid misunderstanding.

8:44 pm  
Blogger Dummyfixer said...

You may have already seen this, but if not, you probably should.

6:50 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...


1:49 am  

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