Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Causes Are Not Consquences

Richard Cowart chairman of the health law and public policy departments at Baker Donelson law firm, writes in The Tennissean HERE 
The law of unintended consequences has its roots in Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace. The concept is that mass actions, particularly those of government, always have effects that are unscripted.”
They may share a paragraph but that is all. The “invisible hand” is a metaphoric figure of speech that “that describes in a more striking and interesting manner” its grammatical “object”, which in Smith’s usage is the motive for the person in the for first case (Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759), a “proud and unfeeling landlord” who is compelled by necessity to feed his serfs and labourers, his palace servants and, most importantly, his armed retainers, who kept these underlings in good order and discipline, and in the second only case in Wealth Of Nations. 1776), in which a merchant, who was fearful that the risks to his capital sent abroad were unacceptably high, hence he invested “domestically”. 
In both cases the outcome of their deliberate actions had unintended and unforeseen consequences.  The “metaphor” did not describe the consequences.  Nor did Smith speak of an "invisible hand" of the "market place".
 Modern economists who have reversed the consequences and wrongly assert that the metaphor describes the “unforeseen consequences”, which is woefully ungrammatical, even theological (‘hand of God’ and so on) because that implies that an entity, like a God, inspires the consequences of actions, when, in fact, the consequences are “unforeseen and unintended” by those whose motives lead them to certain actions.
Lawyers, widely known for being precise, ought not to make such elementary and illogical errors in their arguments. 
Smith certainly knew the difference.  He lectured on Rhetoric from 1748-63 and the words quoted above “a striking and more interesting manner”, come from his “Lectures On Rhetoric and Belles Lettres” p. 29 (1762-3) available from Oxford University Press, 1978.


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