Monday, June 25, 2012

Wikipedia Should be Treated With Caution

Linda Garcia PhD writes (18 June) in her Blog HERE 
“Old adages die hard. Just consider the longevity of Adam’s Smith characterization of the self-regulating market as an invisible hand in his classic work, The Wealth of Nations. As Smith opined, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
This sentiment, a persistent trope reverberating from one generation to the next, has become a center-piece of the American ethos as well as a mainstay of the Republican party.”
Linda Garcia is an academic with a background in political science.
She does not believe in the modern usage of the “invisible hand” but she accepts the modern attribution of it to Adam Smith, and associates it with core Republican Party values (of which I shall say nothing, as Lost Legacy does not comment on politics except in the country, Scotland, where I vote).
Her prime mistake: Adam Smith never said anything about “the self-regulating market as an invisible hand in his classic work, The Wealth of Nations”, (care of Wikipedia) and nor, for that matter, did he say it anywhere else.
Her second mistake is to quote the well-worn, and much misunderstood sentence on the “Butcher, Brewer, and Baker’s” behaviour when bargaining with customers on the prices of the ingredients for their dinners.  [Incidentally there is no reference to an “invisible hand” in that paragraph or chapter.]  
Smith discusses his advice on how best to bargain with them.  Self-evidently, there is not enough benevolence to go round for everybody who would like their dinners as free gifts from the benevolence of others.
Moreover, Smith advises readers to appeal not to their own self-interests to persuade the 'butcher, brewer, and baker’ to supply them with their dinners, but to “address" the self-interests of the “butcher, brewer, and baker”, even adding that readers should not talk of their own interests, but talk only of those of their potential bargaining partners.
In short, we address our own self-interests best by addressing the self-interests of those with  whom we wish to persuade.   Two self-interested egoists would never agree to exchange anything. 
This is an entirely different slant on Smith’s views on the mediation of self-interests to that presented by modern economists, who invented the modern myth of the so-called invisible hand at the start of the Cold War to emphasise (in my view) the superiority of markets over central planning (see Paul Samuelson’s, Economics: an introductory analysis, p 36, 1948, McGraw-Hill).


Blogger SM said...

It makes me wonder if so many "scholars" get Smith's IH wrong, what else have "scholars" been wrong about?

In my opinion, Herbert Spencer is another whose ideas have been misrepresented mainly since, Hofstadter's Social Darwinism in American Thought.

11:24 pm  
Blogger airth10 said...

Although Linda Garcia misinterprets Adam Smith's invisible hand she has a point about Romney's sophomore-ish attacks on Obama's economic policies.

Most of Romney's economic policies are window dressing and empty rhetoric, which the Republican party has become a party of.

11:40 am  
Blogger airth10 said...

Anyway, I don't see it as such a big deal that Smith's invisible hand is interpreted as something other than what he meant. Why, it has been through interpretation and the reinvention of ideas that the Western world was made.

In comparison, other cultures and civilization have been left behind or failed because interpretation of ideas and scriptures was forbidden or not encouraged.

12:54 pm  
Blogger SM said...

airth10, I believe its a big deal-taking things out of context and then attributing them to an author. Such behavior can lead to negative consequences in all types of situations. Note, If someone wants to develop an IH theory by all means go for it, but you can't attribute the theory to someone who had nothing to do with it.

lets look at a hypothetical example. Take for instance the writings of Mark Twain, Lincoln, or even Frederick Douglas. In their writings you can find use of the n-word and taking it out of context you could assume all sorts of negative characterizations about those men.

As a person entering grad school in history/philosophy I find it highly unethical to falsely misrepresent someones ideas.

As I noted above in another comment Herbert Spencer is someone (in my opinion) who underwent character assassination after his death and as a result a majority of "scholars" falsely attribute the ideas of "social darwinism" to him.

3:50 pm  
Blogger airth10 said...

I appreciate what you are saying SM. And I think you are helping to prove one of my points in your response to me. You are participating in a conversation that otherwise would not have happened, in questioning me. And in so doing others might learn something as you are helping to put the record straight.

Not all interpretation or reinterpretation are good. But if we left, for instance, the Bible without translating or interpreting it we would not have been able to learn from it in order to better and transcend ourselves. Moreover, if we left everything as it may have been originally intended it would be a very stiff and stagnant world.

Anyway, the way Adam Smith wrote left room for ambiguity, like when he wrote " in many other cases, led by an invisible hand...", which suggests to me that there are several other cases where humans in economic life have been led by an invisible hand.

Smith was a great man but he wasn't the last word.

5:42 pm  
Blogger SM said...

I'm not saying to leave everything as it was "originally intended." You can build on old theories or create your own new theories. But taking something out of context and then attributing that idea to an author is wrong to do. Yes, there is room for ambiguity in historical interpretation (thus the need for viewing in proper context), however just taking " in other cases, led by an invisible hand..." is a perfect example of taking something out of context. You need to consider that statement/thought in its entirity (i.e. the sentence, paragraph, chapter, compared to other works, etc.) to understand its context.

If it remains uncertain you have to treat it as such as it pertains to the author/event, etc. in question.

3:53 am  

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