Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Adam Smith was Innocent!

Dr Carlo Scodanibbio & Ing Joseph Micallef, post (4 April) on Di-Ve HERE

Lean management: Culture change for less operational cost, improved value”

“The second industrial revolution started silently over two decades ago, but Malta still seems attached to the principles, strategies and philosophy of the first one, brought about by Adam Smith and Frederick Taylor a long time ago. This is a considerable problem, because the principles of the first industrial revolution are rather dated, to say the least.

It is a gross exaggeration to say that the first industrial revolution was “brought about by Adam Smith and Frederick Taylor.”

Apart from Adam Smith (1723-90) living in the 18th century and Frederick Taylor (1856-1920) in the 19th-20th centuries, the first industrial revolution appears to have been purely coincidental to anything that Adam Smith wrote about the already existing forms of the commercial society he observed and its main affects were over by the time that Taylor was investigating “scientific management”. Adam Smith was criticised in the 20th century for not noticing - even ignoring - the technological changes going on around him (see Kennedy, Adam Smith's Lost Legacy, Palgrave, 2005, Chapter 29, especially on "Kindleberger versus Hartwell', pages 128-31).

Even the popular term of the industrial revolution began to be circulated in Britain, Germany, and France long after Smith and long before Frederick Taylor (see Anna Bezanson, “The Early Use of the Term Industrial Revolution”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Notes and Memoranda, vol. 36, no 2, Feb, pp 343-349 – last accessed 4/4/12:

There is a more substantive point raised by Scodanibbio and Micallef’s paper: to what extent do underlying social processes owe their origins to named or unnamed philosophers and engineers? Deep social changes are seldom, if ever, the result of specific individuals who write about them.

Adam Smith did not bring about any ”industrial revolution”. The events that made up the industrial revolution were caused by deep underlying consequences of the division of labour that had lasted for many millennia (and nor was he the first philosopher to write about it). Nor did Smith “invent or cause “capitalism”, and neither was “capitalism”, however defined, in any way the result of his book “Wealth Of Nations”; both of which silly attributions in modern media appear regularly. The word 'capitalism' was invented in English in (Thackeray's novel 'The Newcomes", 1854)

Adam Smith observed and also studied history. He was not an advocate of the “human design” of utopia systems and held “men of system” in something just short of contempt for imagining that their new schemes for society would be implemented and would solve any problems faced by humanity (see Moral Sentiments, Part VI, Section 2, chapter 2, paragraph 17: pages 233-4).

The attribution of the 'division of labour', the 'first industrial revolution'. or 'capitalism' to Adam Smith is an avoidable error. Read Adam Smith; don't just third-hand quote reports of it.

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Blogger airth10 said...

From NPR: "Scientists originally thought that maybe some mysterious pattern in deep-ocean currents, such as an invisible hand stirring a giant bathtub, created this temperature see-saw."

The IH metaphor has been appropriated by all kinds. Smith should have copyrighted and protected that metaphor. But, then, he didn't invent it.

Perhaps the ocean scientists should have used the term "eggbeater" or "turbine" to describe the phantom stirrings they find in oceans.

To paraphrase: Metaphors like the invisible hand, inexact as they are or whether expropriated, are the only way the layman can begin to grasp the strange phantom world that underpins the world.

12:21 pm  

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