Friday, April 29, 2016


Rajat Kathuria (director & chief executive, Icrier), Vatsala Shreeti and Parnil Urdhwareshe (research assistants) post (29 April) on Financial Express HERE 
“Column: Socialism to marketism: Involvement of the state in markets must be consistent with its capacity”
“In Adam Smith’s world of perfectly competitive markets, price is all that is needed to coordinate economic activity—the “invisible hand” leads to optimal allocation under textbook conditions.” 
The three authors of the article in Financial Express are so far off the truth about Adam Smith (I prefer to blame their tutors and the modern authors of the books from which they learned their errors about Adam Smith's political economy). They certainly never read anything in Adam Smith to justify their nonsense about which they write above.
The Adam Smith born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland in 1723, who wrote the Wealth of Nations (1776), never wrote about, nor mentioned, “perfectly competitive markets”, and neither did his use of the metaphor of “an invisible hand” refer to “optimal allocation” or “rextbook conditions”. 
At best the authors' are confused. Worse, I do not think they know just how wrong they are about Adam Smith’s ideas. T’is a pity. 

Worse, they compromise the details of their comments on aspects of India’s economy in the rest of their article in Financial Express.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


A Review Note on Eleanor Courtemanche: “The ‘Invisible Hand’ and British Fiction, 1818-1860”, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011.
A strange and muddled book in so far as it pretends to be an authoritative account of an aspect of literary history. I bought it at an author’s  discount from the publisher of my Adam Smith (2005 and 2008, 2nd ed. 2010), on this occasion attracted by its title.
It was, however, disappointing because it is full of basic errors on Adam Smith, his use of the ‘invisible hand’ metaphor, the emergence of capitalism, and the relevance of these phenomena to British fiction. I make no comment on its author’s account of early British fiction.  other than the context she uses.
Courtemanche’s account is written entirely from the perspective of modern (post-1948) economics and not from any in-depth, or even passing, knowledge of Adam Smith, his life, ideas or contributions to the allegded theme of her book. In fact, the Author betrays a serious deficiency in almost everything she writes about Adam Smith. and her title’s implied hypothesis demonstrates her failure to even check basic facts about her subject, let alone to appreciate the life and work of Adam Smith.
Courtemanche writes on the false assumption that Adam Smith (1723-90) wrote from the perspective of a knowledge of ‘capitalism’. The word ‘capitalism’ was first used in English in 1854 by Thackeray in the Newcomes. It was not in general use in the modern sense until sometime after its first appearance. See Note Below. 
The word ‘capitalist’ was used in English some time earlier (Oxford English Dictionary, vol 2). This leads Courtemanche to develop her false hypothesis to fit into her literary themes on early British fiction.
Moreover, Courtemanche writes as if Smith’s use of the “invisible hand” metaphor was widely known when he was alive (1723-90) and discussed by the classical economists in the early part of the 19th century. The facts are quite different. 
No contemporaries of Smith commented on his use of the ‘IH’ and neither did any of the classical economists for most of the19th century. Why should they? While Smith was alive (and for a century or more earlier) the ‘IH’ was in regular use by theologians, preachers, and such like, plus occasional authors using it in their texts (e.g. Skakespeare, Daniel Defoe, and many others). 
In fact the first and only reference to Smith’s use of the IH metaphor apears to have been made by the charasmatic Scottish Presbyterian preacher, Chalmers, in 1836, using it for his theological purposes. As for the rest of the time, including by those who knew Smith well and by those who regularly wrote about his economics, there is a definite silence regarding the “invisible hand”. Clearly, they did not consider it other than a familar local metaphor of little importance.
My own search finds the first mentions of Smith’s use of the metaphor in the 1870s (six mentions).  From there to the 1940s mentions remained sparse. The big turning point came after 1948 when Paul Samuels, in his highy successful textbook, “Economics: an analytical introduction”, McGraw Hill - 19 editions to 2010, 5 million sales, plus the large second hand market, referred to Smith’s use of the ‘IH’ as being about “selfish” behaviour leading to unintended social benefits (itself a misreading of what Smith actually said), From then on, at first slowly then in a torrent and latterly as a daily virtual flood, the association of Adam Smith with selfish actions and an ‘IH’ took off, and has still not abated. This phenomenon is quite extraordinary. Even a casual glance at Smith’s actaul words in the sole reference he made to the ‘IH’ in WN as a metaphor there is no mention of ‘selfish’ actions, yet Courtemanche writes repeatedly as if there is (surely she checked what Smith actually wrote?). 
If she insists that Smith’s other reference to the ‘IH’ in Moral Sentiments (TMS, 1759) was about selfish landlords and their treatment of their serfs, she should note that the centuries of feudal mistreatement only had the consequence that the system secured the biological ‘propagation of the species’. But then all the earlier social arrangements - Smith on ‘savagery’, ‘hunting’, shepherding, farming, commerce - could be said to have achieved population growth irrespective of their short-term economic arrangements. Commerce, of course, boosted popoulation growth at historically unprecedented rates. Selfishness iself was never a significant key factor in human history, as Smith made clear in Moral Sentiments (1759).
For my published accounts on Smith’s use of the ‘Invisible hand’ metaphor, I suggest a couple of my earlier papers (both located via Google on the Internet):
Kennedy, Gavin: “Adam Smith and the Invisible hand: from Metaphor to Myth”, Econon Journal Watch, vol 6, no 2  (May 2009), pp 239-630.
Kennedy, Gavin: “Adam Smith and the Role of the Metaphor of an Invisible Hand”, Economic Affairs 31 (1) (2011), pp 53-57
See also:Kennedy, Gavin: Paul Samuelson and the Invention of the Modern Economics of the Invisible Hand,
History of Economic Ideas Vol. 18, No. 3 (2010), pp. 105-119

A note on the first use in English of the word: capitalism.
I regularly refer readers and authors, such as Eleanor Courtemanche, to the first use of the word capitalism in English, though more often I refer to modern economists, who have less excuse than English language academics for not knowing the first appearance of ‘capitalism’ in English. 
Consult William Makepeace Thackery’s novel, The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family” , Thomas Nelson and Sons (1854-5). As regularly, I am also often asked exactly where in Thackeray’s novel does ‘capitalism’ appear - it is a long book. 
In my second-hand Thomas Nelson (1900) edition, which I bought for my 1st year English course at University in 1965: I turn to Chapter XLV, p. 558: ‘The Hotel de Florac’. In whatever edition you consult go to the ‘Hotel de Florac’ chapter and find the sentence:

The Prince de Moncontour took his place with great gravity at the Paris board, whither Barnes made frquent flying visits. The sense of  capitalism sobered and dignified Paul de Florac at th age of five-and-forty: …”.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Stephany Jorimous, de posts HERE
“Are you searching for The Invisible Hand Of Planning: Capitalism, Social Science, And The State In The 1920'S Books? PDF is available at our online library.”
On Language Change: The Invisible Hand In Language
Mitch Frankenberg posts on Twists, Turns, and Yellow Brick Roads HERE 

Monday, April 25, 2016


AUDREY LEYNAUD posts on Daily Tar Heel HERE  about UNC graduate James Adam writing about his experience working in a waffle house and somewhat disullusioned about his experiences in finance.
Interesting but for thise quote from the Daily Tar Heel:
If you go back to the origin of capitalism, with Adam Smith and the French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, both saw capitalism as a mean of increasing living standards for the people,” he said.

Comment: neither Adam Smith nor Say knew about ‘capitalism’: the word was first used in English in 1854 by Thackeray in the ‘Newcomes’ ((Oxford English Dictionary). Smith refered to ‘commerce’ not ‘capitalism’.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


MARTIN CONRAD is the chief investment strategist at C.I.G., a private investment group, posts in Barron’s HERE 
"How The Wealth of Nations Made Us All Wealthier"

"Adam Smith’s great book pointed out the modern path to the enrichment of whole societies through cooperative self-interest."

Martin Conrad, chief investment strategist at CIG group] eulogises a modern assessment of Adam Smith (1723-90), quite contrary to the facts.  Smith was by most measures a talented and path-breaking theorist - however he did not walk on water. He carefully analysed the past history of humankind through various stadial events - broadly, ‘savagery’ through to Hunting, Shepherding, Farming and ('at last') Commerce. He did not make predictions of the future - except one prediction in respect of the new ex-British states formed in North America where he predicted they would be the wealthiest in the world by the 1880s].

Smith did not describe the “economic achievement of Europe” as “comparatively low” as there was little to compare it with in 1770; the Netherlands were growing economically and so were the southern counties of England (Scotland’s northern ‘Highlands’ remained backward compared to parts of the central lowlands - Glasgow and Edinburgh).
Martin Conrad writes: “Smith argued that man was an economic animal who, by his bargaining and exchanging in the marketplace could benefit from the diverse talents and genius of all his fellow men.” Yet Smith wrote in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1763) and partly in Wealth of Nations (1776) that “exchange” was a human trait that differentiated the species from all other animals and had done so since humans first appeared (evolved?) deep in pre-history. The “market place” did not appear until comparatively recently and was not the source of “bargaining and exchange”. That trait was universal from the beginning  which once market relations appeared they became dominant characteristics. 
Smith’s example of the Pin Factory was taken verbatim from the French Encyclopedia published in Paris long before WN in 1776. Smith did not invent the division of labour.
“Conrad: producers could increase their profits by investing in more efficient methods for their businesses, thus lowering their costs and expanding their volume, and consumers’ savings from lower prices were then available to finance that rising investment”. Smith wrote much more on the misbehaviour of “merchants and manufacturers” who engaged regularly in seeking to reduce competition through tariffs and prohibitions, licences, and political interferences, so they could raise prices and generate higher profits.
Conrad: “As Smith was writing, this systematic growth model of economic life was combining with the discovery of cheap, efficient energy from coal and the technological innovations that grew out of Europe’s scientific revolution.” Realisitically, all this would have happened even if Smith had not written WN; it  did not require Smith, or anybody else, to notice what was going on independently of authors.
There was nothing utopian about Adam Smith’s ideas. He described what was going on the economy quite independent of his research, Neither did Smith make predictions. 

Adam Smith did not describe “the way to harness intellectual capacity and instinctual ambition for the common good”. Nor do we “live and thrive today in mostly his world”. So much happened after Smith died that he would have been astonished at many events, though probably not so surprised at the continuing ability of humans to mess up what they do compared to what they could do or might have done.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


The review in Simply Charlie of my second book on Adam Smith was partly published on Lost Legacy in December 2-15. I publish the full review here today because it  represents what I wrote most closely.
Adam Smith: A Moral Philosopher and His Political Economy 
Book Review (31 December, 2015) by Gordon Bannerman in Simply Charlie HERE of 
Adam Smith: A Moral Philosopher and His Political Economy” by Gavin Kenedy (Palgrave-Macmillan) 2010. 
By re-examining Adam Smith’s theories as they were originally articulated, Gavin Kennedy, Emeritus Professor at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, aims at nothing less than rescuing the authentic Smith from the distorted interpretations, assumptions and attributions of modern economists. Having in subsequent publications criticized scholars for partial and misleading citations from Smith’s work as a means of validating their own theories, it is a task Kennedy is eminently suited to perform.
With short, snappy chapters that are thematically and sequentially coherent, Kennedy seeks to demonstrate that Smith’s original message was very clear but has been misused by ideologues of the Right and more surprisingly perhaps, also the Left. Judicious citations from Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776) provide a compelling dynamic to Kennedy’s narrative. The former was an essential conceptual and philosophical link towards the latter, and with his moral philosophy in mind, Kennedy claims Wealth of Nations as a philosophical treatise rather than an economics textbook, for Smith “directed his intellectual output at emphasising the mutuality of human conduct through chains of exchange relationships arising from the dependence of each person in society on the services of many independent others” (p.18).
Consequently, Smith’s earlier work developed ideas of empathy, interdependence, and harmony of interests, and how these values played out in society were highly significant in underpinning Smith’s political economy. The author considers the passage relating “the propriety of generosity and the deformity of injustice” vitally important in countering the misinterpretations of those who argue that Smith preached the supremacy of self-love and self-interest, and that his fundamental doctrine was “greed is good” (p.137). Kennedy devotes considerable time developing and demonstrating two fundamental points. Firstly, that Smith was neither the purveyor of pure laissez-faire nor the ideological forerunner of the neo-classical Chicago School and secondly that he advocated a fairer, equitable society, based not on redistributive mechanisms but by sharing future affluence from economic growth and higher employment.
The idea of Smith as ideologue of non-interventionist economics has a long history from the Classical Economists and the Manchester School to Hayek and Friedman. Yet, historians of economic thought, notably Jacob Viner and Mark Blaug, have acknowledged that Smith was not a doctrinaire advocate of laissez-faire policies (p.183). Smith accepted the legitimacy of protective duties, in particular cases, and more widely did not oppose Government intervention on principle but opposed policies which undermined or obstructed free competition. He added that many obstructions were enacted at the behest of merchants and manufacturers lobbying for protection and monopolies, which Kennedy attributes to Smith’s moral philosophy leading him to support perfect liberty “pure and simple” without favouring any special interest rather than any Leftist bias.
With moral philosophy always in mind, Kennedy presents a lucid account of Smith’s political economy, demonstrating, contrary to Schumpeter’s criticism that Smith’s esoteric methodology and expositions led to his failure to cross “the scientific Rubicon” into modern economics, that Smith’s economic concepts are finely-honed and highly-nuanced. Smith based much of his economic theory on a sweeping analysis of historical development of the Economic Ages of Man, from antiquity through feudalism to the commercial age, in the process demonstrating how commerce was the harbinger and catalyst of political reform and far-reaching economic development. Kennedy demonstrates how Smith appreciated how historical context influenced division of labour and the labour theory of value. In primitive societies, where labour was the only factor of production it was valid to claim human capital was the only source of value, but in a multi-factor economy, this was not applicable. Equally, surplus output driving the division of labour, leading to further specialisation and a constantly-evolving supply chain, “the essential difference between rude and commercial societies” was applicable to a particular era (p.56). For Smith, neither concept was immutable but changed according to prevailing economic circumstances.
If economic growth and development were positive aspects of commercial society, mercantilism in all its regulatory, institutional, and legislative forms, was the enveloping negative feature. Domestically, mercantilist regulations fuelled high prices, under-stocked markets, and poor workmanship. Not only were these customary practices and legislative enactments economically inefficient but they also inhibited long-term economic growth, and breached natural liberty in preventing free mobility of labour and capital (p.188). Mercantilist restrictions made international commerce “the most fertile source of discord and animosity” between nations (p.136). However, Smith did not, as the English manufacturer and Liberal statesman Richard Cobden later did, envisage free trade as a panacea for the dissolution of international rivalries. Chartered Companies, monopoly rights, and colonial possessions were criticised by Smith primarily on account of misallocation of resources disrupting capital flows and retarding capital accumulation.
The contemporary relevance of Smith’s work has led to much misunderstanding and misuse, most notably the Invisible Hand metaphor, used once by Smith in Wealth of Nations, to describe how intentional acts could lead to unintended consequences, some of which were beneficial, some of which were not. The metaphor was not intended as a definitive explanation of free-market operations yet successive economists have propagated it as a “mystical principle” of how market forces promote beneficial outcomes. Even Milton Friedman described how it had been “more potent for progress than the visible hand for retrogression.” Clearly, these ideologically-charged representations are a distortion. Similarly, claims of disapproval of government intervention are easily dismissed. Instancing Smith’s proposals on education, justice, and capital projects of economic infrastructure, complemented by an official apparatus of “instruments of intervention,” and a sanctioned list of governmental duties, Kennedy convincingly argues that utility, not principle, governed his stance (p.176).
For Smith, wealth creation and capital formation were instrumental towards alleviating poverty. British working-class history in the nineteenth and twentieth century validates his perspective, for contrary to Marx’s predictions of working-class immiseration, rising real wages and the general spread of opulence raised working-class living standards. Smith has also been attacked for failing to grasp how economies of scale contradicted the harmony of self-interest with the common good, but it has to be remembered that Smith never asserted that self-interested acts were universally socially-benign. This type of criticism indicates that the idea of the Invisible Hand universally guiding market forces towards positive outcomes is still widely and mistakenly advanced.

Adam Smith’s fame and prestige never rested on originality. Many others, anticipated elements of his thought, and a cross-current of Scottish and European Enlightenment thinkers influenced his writing. More may have been made of these intellectual influences. Yet, while the author’s admiration for his subject is clear he does not shirk from criticism, especially relative to Smith’s often casual periodization and imprecise dating. If valid criticism, it hardly detracts from the magnitude of Smith’s achievement. It is now not credible to claim as the American economist George Stigler did in 1975 that The Wealth of Nations was merely a “stupendous palace erected upon the granite of self-interest” (p.109). As Kennedy argues, it is this type of careless, incomplete, and selective reading and quotation which has led to the “largely invented image” of Smith as an advocate of laissez-faire (p.172). To his credit, Kennedy aims to eliminate these misconceptions, and his concise and highly-analytical account makes a substantial contribution towards re-appraising the practical content and ideological application of Smith’s output. The nature, vision, and scope of Smith’s work, buttressed by extensive original quotations and careful reading, are well-delineated, and linkages between Smith’s historical analysis of economic development and his examination of human behaviour and motivation are finely-drawn. By restoring Smith to his rightful place as a philosopher who described the nature of society he examined and who sought ways to improve the lives of the people, Kennedy has gone some way towards re-locating Smith in his proper historical context and perhaps in the process has made him a less partisan and divisive figure.”


Some readers may have noticed that my posts have been scarce for some weeks (month's?). This absence has been due to a debilitating illness afflicting me.
This seems now to have passed. I am physically fitter again and I have resumed my daily walking. I can also read and write scholarly materials once more.
I have a check-up with the respiratory team on Wednesday coming, from which I hope for an all clear.
My thanks to those readers who wrote to me wishing me well.
I can now continue with my promised, but unfinished, essay on the invisible hand which I hope to send out soon.
Thank you.
Gavin Kennedy


Over at Paul Walker's ANTI-DISMAL Blog an exchange is posted between us, as below. We have exchanged posts before on matters where we are in agreement. While clearly we do not agree on the following subject belo I hope readers will agree that we abide by the better traditions and good manners of scholarly debate.
A blog on all things to do with economics and related subjects
"Gavin Kennedy on Adam Smith"
"Gavin Kennedy is Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh Business School, Herio-Watt University and author of" Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy" (Palgrave) 2005; "Adam Smith: a Moral Philosopher and a Political Economist". (Palgrave) 2008, 2nd ed. 2010. He is interviewed on Smith's life and work at Simply Charly.
At the beginning of the interview Kennedy is asked "What would economic theory and practice be like if Smith had not written The Wealth of Nations?". In part Kennedy responds,
If we supposed instead that Smith had not completed WN in 1776, would it have affected the progress of economic theory, given the course of other people's’ published economic ideas in Europe? Clearly, the details of the history of economics would have been different, but by how much we don’t know. I do not think it would have mattered that much because by Smith’s time, and for many decades after him, there was a wide, even occasionally deep, knowledge of political economy in print in northern Europe.
I would argue that one important point about Smith is that he had a following, Before Smith many people wrote about economic issues but no one seemed to have given rise to an ongoing school of thought. They wrote and were largely forgotten but Smith was not. It is the creation of this ongoing discussion of economic ideas and policy that would be missing if Smith hadn't written. What would have replaced Smith we don't know but I would guess it would have resulted in a very different form of economics today.
At one point Kennedy states,
But markets are driven by visible prices and cannot work without them. There is nothing invisible about markets. Adding to markets an “invisible hand” adds nothing to our understanding of how markets work. It confuses rather than adds to knowledge.
And it is true that we see prices and how they change and charge our behaviour in response to them. But what is invisible to us is the "why" of the price changes. We don't know why prices have changed and what's more we don't need to know. The reason can remain "invisible" to us. Just reacting to the price change we see is enough to allocate resources efficiently. Just imagine what would happen if we didn't use prices. A government official sees that there has been a bad harvest of apples and so the supply of apples is reduced. Without prices he would then have to set about allocating what apples we have to those who want apples. How this could be done is far from clear but without prices some, very inefficient method no doubt, would have to be found. With prices, no problems. The reduction in supply causes prices to rise and consumers of apples make their own decision on what to do. Many will cut back on their consumption of apples and hereby move supply and demand towards equilibrium. Note that with prices the "why" of the price increase, the bad harvest, is not known about by consumers and does not need to be known about for them to adjust their behaviour.
On the importance of the idea of the "invisible hand" Craig Smith has pointed out,
It is the idea of the invisible hand, or more generally the idea of social evolution through unintended consequences, which represents Smith’s chief legacy to the modern world. The recognition that many of the most important human achievements are, as Smith’s friend Adam Ferguson observed, the results of human action, not the product of human design, is a profound lesson to us all. It is this observation which leads Smith to his deep scepticism towards ‘men of system’ who would organise humanity to achieve noble ends.
Eamonn Butler summaries things as
The invisible hand idea, as commonly understood, pervades Smith’s work, and would do so even if these two specific references had never existed. For the phrase is a very convenient shorthand for Smith’s idea that human actions have unintended consequences; and that provided a few fundamental rules such as the principles of justice are followed, the self-serving actions of individuals can unintentionally produce a well-functioning and beneficial overall social order."
My response: 
I do not see exactly what you object to in my statement that markets work through visible prices. You seem to agree and then bring in Adam Smith’s metaphor of “an invisible hand” participating in the visible prices of the market as if it is a noun.
That it was a metaphor should not be forgotten. But for what was it a metaphor? Certainly not for an unstated force at work - that is to give it a role, commonly used in the 17th-18th centuries, though not exclusively, of theologically divine intervention in human affairs. 
Smith of course did not ’coin’ the use of the IH metaphor as claimed by modern economists, following Paul Samuelson in 1948.
The words he used metaphorically were “led by an invisible hand”. What did that mean? It referred to the consequences of the merchant’s actions.
Merchants acted from his/her motives which in this case were/are not visible to others. They exist in the private minds of the merchants and obviously can vary across individuals. But by acting, the merchants’ motives have intended consequences, that is why the merchant acts. In WN the intentional motivational concern of the merchant is for the security of his capital, nothing else. But all actions may have unintentional consequences. It is the motivated action that leads to unintentional consequences. 
The IH metaphor does not describe the unintentional consequence - that would imply that the metaphor describes what it leads to, creating a muddle of intentionally leading to unintentional consequences! The motivated merchant acts and it is his actions that have unintentional consequences, as described by the IH metaphor. There is no IH separate from the metaphoric desciption of the motivated actions of people in markets. The IH is not akin to the ‘hand of God’ (Smith after 1744 was not a believer in revealed religion; see my papers in JHET 2011 on Smith’s lack of religious beliefs and in Berry, Paganelli and Craig Smith, 2013, Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith).    
So it comes down to what exactly do modern assertions about Smith’s use of the IH metaphor really add to Smith’s modest use of it (largely almost totally ignored until 1875 and post-1948) add to our understanding of his meaning when he used it? I suggest absolutely nothing.

Gavin Kennedy