Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Murray Rothbard's Dismissal of Adam Smith

Steve Bartin (24 December) posts on News Alerts HERE 
“You didn't learn this in your typical economics class in college. You probably didn't learn it anywhere. Economist Murray Rothbard explains economics didn't began with Adam Smith and was better before Smith showed up on the scene. If you read this printed lecture: you'll learn more about economics than what many people learn in their entire stay at college.”
Murray Rothbard had a “thing” about Adam Smith, which I discussed on Lost Legacy in 2006 after reading his articles courtesy of the “Austrian” web site (von Mises, etc. whose “Human Action, a large volume, that I purchased was heavy going, though impressive in its scope). 
I have asked several ‘Old timers’ who knew Rothbard.  Their reports of his abrasive debating prowess did not include his use of the usual academic courtesies (much like Karl Marx, who ‘never took prisoners’ of those who disagreed with him).
Rothbard’s line that “economics didn't began [sic] with Adam Smith and was better before Smith showed up on the scene” is classic of him. 
You can find similar Rothbardian approaches in Salim Rashid’s “The Myth of Adam Smith” (1998), Edward Edgar, and echoes too in Joseph Schumpeter’s magnificent “History of Economic Analysis” (1954) (Allen & Unwin), edited by his wife, Elizabeth Schumpeter. [Similar abrasive debaters should note, it does not do your case harm to include your “opponents” respectfully in your references.]
Now Adam Smith had critical respect for his predecessors.  He was severer on those governments that listened to some of them in the camp of mercantile political economy, policies we can now see in historical perspective that started England (later Britain) on the road to Empire building and to the wars up to the 1950s at great cost in capital and human life.
Rothbard had a bee in his bonnet about Smith’s muddled ideas on the theory of value and blames him for the Marxian developments in the labour theory of value, communism, and all that followed. 
Why Smith alone is selected for that odium is not clear; he followed his predecessors and was followed by Ricardo, Mill and etc., who led to Marx, who, incidentally, was quite a failure as a revolutionary, let alone as an economist. Various strains of 'Marxism' long remained a minority voice in the growing mass labour and socialist movements from the 19th and 20th centuries that evolved into social democracy.
Moreover, much of Adam Smith’s contributions in economics and moral philosophy were taken over by epigones, whose misinterpretations of Smith provoke critical appraisal and the hostility from such as Rothbard and others, in their one-line quips of dismissal.


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