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Thursday, October 10, 2002
Belated Response on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

This is responding to when John Stevenson posted praised this article in his post a few weeks ago on Sept. 16. I didn't post this before, because Jon Eisenman, if I remember correctly, did a good job responding. But since I'm engaging in deserving John-bashing anyway (see the post below), here's some gratutious comments:

John Stevenson says: "If after reading this article, you question whether greedy capitalist can make things better, I encourage to read Smith's Wealth of Nations or listen to this pre-eminent economist on Real Player or read the transcript."

I wish people would actually read Smith rather than using them for their ideology and putting them on their recommended reading lists. Smith also devloped a theory of moral sentiments, and even in The Wealth of Nations, Smith's concept of self-interest was not quite the rationalist economic man that forms the paradigm of micro-economics. There is one quote from Smith that every libertarian free-market lover has memorized (the one about the butcher feeding you not out of his own benevolence), but this does not support the idea that Smith espoused the motto of Wall Street "Greed is Good" Smith thought that each time bankers meet they collude against the public good (he's got some pretty nasty things to say about mearchants-- even if Smith thinks government should not interfere, he would NOT praise the individual merchants by saying their actions were beneficial). Also, that oft-quoted invisible hand quote is such an isolated part of the book; it clearly does not occupy much of Smith's argument to anyone who has read the full Wealth of Nations. I am doubtful that Stevenson has not read all of the Wealth of Nations. So John, if you have read Smith (and not just skimmed it or seen quotes of him), tell me when and where and how long it was, what statements of Smith are you basing his post on, rather than just people's impressions of Smith? And how do reconcile this with other interpretations of Smith? (By the way, I'm talking about the entire 1000 page version. The abridged version that is less than 200 pages doesn't count: John's an intellectual after all!)