Monday, February 16, 2015


“Blood” posts (15 Feb)  on “Daily Kos” HERE
On Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand”
[Follow the link - it's too long to reproduce fairly].
“Blood’s” account is as thorough as it goes, but it is riven with leftist ideological prejudices as tiresome to read as the ideological prejudiecs of rightest ideologues, who argue the opposite tiresome cliches which “Blood” feels so strongly about. 
Do ideologues ever stand back and think about how their non-idelogical readers, whom presumably they are trying to influence, might react to what the've written? Do ideologues ever read the mirror-images of their leftist/rightist assertions from those to whom they are diametrically opposed? Probably not.
Its been some time since I read an Angry Bear post, to which I was once invited to contribute but got hammered by a correspondent who had no sense of history or of the evolution of law over the long history to which we were receded. After a couple of exchanges, I realised I was talking to a relatively uninformed ideologue every bit as ill-informed as the rightist ideologues with whom I tussle with regularly on Lost Legacy.
“Blood” acccouns for Adam Smith’s use on the “invisible hand” metaphor with accurate quotations from Adam Smith’s “Moral Sentiments” (1759) and “Wealth Of Nations” (1776), underlining his/her claim to have read both, which is more than the normal exponents have done who assert what Smith allegedly meant. But the good work “Blood” does in this respect is completely undermined with “Blood’s” aside that “Their outrageous highjacking of Enlightenment thinkers like Smith is an intellectual crime that long ago would have been prosecuted in a healthy and politically engaged society.”  
Really? Oh Dear! This is an appalling indictment of “Blood’s” ideology. What kind of Enlightenment thinking does “Blood” think he/she expresses in that explicit threat? What happened to free speech and liberty? Which recent society has he/she got in mind as a model for the society he/she wishes to live in? Is it modelled on today’s Venezuela? or post-war McCarthy’s USA?
Now Lost Legacy has posted much on Adam Smith’s use of the invisible hand since 2005 and a glance down the posts for the last six months show how close “Blood” has come to understanding what Smith was about. Smith spent a large part of Book IV of WN castigating ('violently" in Smith's words) the use of tariffs, prohibitions, blockades and warfare to prevent countries trading, thereby reducing domestic competition and raising domestic prices against consumers. Smith called these practices mercantile political economy. Incidently, the state monopoly of trade - common to all experience of ‘socialist’ governments - is a version of mercantile economics, producing the same result of relative poverty or the mass of the people, though the political elite escaped the rationing that their economic policies caused..
Smith’s uses of the IH metaphor were not solely focussed on market economies.  With fall of Rome in the 5th century, western Europe's early markets withered away, replaced by War-Lordism and, eventually  Feudalism, out of which commercial  markets re-emerged from the 14th century, amidst a great deal of general poverty. Agriculture  therefore existed for many millennia before markets emerged. When Smith referred to “since providence divided the land” he was covering a large slice of Human experience (though 'providence' had nothing to do with it). His attempt to show that these policies were benficial to labourers was, of course, a fable agreed upon. The relationship of “rich” landlords and their peasants were unequal. Landlords enslaved labourers and shared some of the produce of their labourers’ hard work, supervised by unfeeling overseers. Economically this relationshp developed the exchange relationship that landlords fed their labourers unequally from the produce their labourers produced and landlords which lived off the bulk of it. In real time and for many generations and in the long run, this relationship enabled the procreation of the species, which Smith counted as a social benefit. 
Those societes that did not resort to agriculture (i.e., the greater part of the world's human species) experienced a lower and precarious standard of living from hunting and gathering, and its populations expanded very slowly, if at all.  But agriculture and other landed ectivities (mining, particularly) developed simple technologies (crop rotation, water coursing) and also fostered early market possibilities - mainly "luxuries" - from extra-territorial trade (shipping, navigation) and, of course, dynastic warfare).  Richard Cantillon (1735) provided a more realsitic view of the division of the land that saw it as violent expropriation, leading to primogeniture, dynastic wars with rivals for thrones, which had nothing to with providence, a wholly mythical piece of theological fantasy..
Which leads us back to the "invisible hand". Briefly, Smith used the IH metaphor to “describe in a more stiking and interesting manner” (see Smith's "Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres" 1763 , p.29), a course he taught from 1748 to 1764), describing the cause of human motivations that led them to actions for intended consequences (Labourers for their daily food and landlords for their aspirations of local “greatness’). Their motivated actions also had unintended consequences, some, of course, negative (slavery, warfare) and some positive (slightly higher living standards than provided by hunting and gathering, hence population growth, if they avoided wars, diseases, and plagues).  His second example referred to those European merchants after the 16th century who were risk-averse to foriegn trade, their motives led them to keep their capital safer by their intended actions, and these two had unintended consequences, some good (higher domestic revenue and employment) and some bad (protectinionist actions and warfare in hostilities towards neighbours).
I suggest “Blood” thinks about what Smith was actually about and becomes wary of ill-thought theories in pursuit of an ideological chimera.
“Blood” concludes: “Adam Smith ... has been unfairly used and abused by the Right Wing long enough.”  I completely agree! With respect, Smith has also been “used and abused by the Right and the Leftwing together for long enough".


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