Thursday, January 08, 2015


The blurb for a downloadable version of Mark Scousen’s 2007 book, “The Big Three in Economics: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes” is available HERE
“History comes alive in this fascinating story of opposing views that continue to play a fundamental role in today's politics and economics. "The Big Three in Economics" traces the turbulent lives and battle of ideas of the three most influential economists in world history: Adam Smith, representing laissez faire Karl Marx, reflecting the radical socialist model and John Maynard Keynes, symbolizing big government and the welfare state. Each view has had a significant influence on shaping the modern world, and the book traces the development of each philosophy through the eyes of its creator. In the twenty-first century, Adam Smith's "invisible hand" model has gained the upper hand, and capitalism appears to have won the battle of ideas over socialism and interventionism. But author Mark Skousen shows that, even in the era of globalization and privatization, Keynesian and Marxian ideas continue to play a significant role in economic policy.”

Blurbs notouriously are unreliable, but authors normally get to read them pre-publication and may correct errors in good time.  So I assume Mark Scousen considers the above blurb reasonably representative of his views.
I am not sure that Adam Smith led a “turbulent life” in Scotland, or for that matter Keynes, a gifted member of the comfortable, upper-English upper middle-class inteligentsia, never short of a penny or two or in danger of going hungry during his adult life.   As for Karl Marx, he brought much turbulence and poverty on himself and his extended family, from his political activity of trying to promote aimless revolution in mainland Europe (he had no idea on how or what would be done to manage post-capitalist society before the proletariat and their families suffered in the chaos created after they succeeded in storming the barricades.
Linking Adam Smith to “laissez-faire” is historically inaccurate - he favoured Natural Liberty for all, not laissez-faire for employer’s only. If Mark Scousen's “book traces the development of each philosophy through the eyes of its creator” I would be interested in his trace of “laissez-faire” to the “eyes” of Adam Smith.  He never used the words and Scousen has no authority to link them to anything Smith wrote. He had low opinions of the self-interested actions of “merchants and manufacturers” throught-out Wealth Of Nations.  
If Smith had lived into the 19th century, he would have seen how employers and their political allies took-up the clarion call of “laissez-faire” in defence of their claimed right to employ children in mills and mines for 12-hour days, and pay them pittances as they metaphorically shrugged their shoulders if a child’s limb was wrenched off by fast moving machinery. Linking ‘laissez-faire’ to Adam Smith’s name to give it political credibility, is a category one error in historical attribution.
Scousen's assertion tthat Adam Smith's "invisible hand" model has gained the upper hand”, depressingly, is true, only in the sense that what passes for the “invisible hand” theory today is widely and mistakenly believed among modern economists, but the ‘IH theory’  of the 20th and 21st centuries bears little resemblance to Smith’s use of the IH metaphor in the 18th century.

Sadly, I shall not be rushing out to buy Mark’s book. 


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