Sunday, June 30, 2013

From My Notebook, no.14

“This debate will, no doubt, continue to unfold in the always contentious and always entertaining annals of the study of the very earliest human ancestors”, Travis Rayne Pickering, 2013: "Rough and Tumble: aggression, Hunting, and human evolution", University of California Press, p 29.
I continue on occasion to read serious authors on anthropology-related subjects, a subject I became interested in some years back when I was interested in human social evolution from my reading of Adam Smith's speculative evolutionary accounts of the history, or rather pre-history, of human societies.  Occasional hints and references to these years culminated in my sketched and unpublished work for my “The Prehistory of Bargaining” (based on my wholly Smithian account of the evolution of “truck, barter and Exchange”, WN I.ii. are made regularly, where appropriate on Lost Legacy and in some of my papers, and in my Note Books).
Hence, when I read the above sentence in a new book by Travis Rayne Pickering, I recognised instantly to what he referred.  Disputes among social anthropologists are classic examples of the worst aspects mutual abuse that some individual scholars bring to their discipline in their corner of the Academy.
I am mindful of a well known case among some “socio-biologists” loosely related to anthropology over suggestions that certain traits in the history of human behaviour had biological roots, leading a distinguished contender for the highest prizes in science to engage in a disgusting behaviour set, including urging his students to disrupt his rival’s classes for expressing different, beliefs about aspects of their interpretation of data that the instigator of this riotous behaviour considered reprehensible, even ‘Nazi-like’.
I think urging students to disrupt someone else’s classes is about as Nazi- or Communist-like as you can get without wearing a provocative armband and carrying a big stick too.
Moreover the two of them were complicit to the extent of not speaking to each though their laboratories were in the same building and they regularly had to pass each other in the corridors and occasionally attended the same official meetings.
Economists are not immune from such anti-intellectual behaviour on occasion. 
In the late 1970s, Milton Friedman gave a lecture at Strathclyde University at the height of his fame for disagreeing with Keynesianism then taught as orthodoxy in the undergraduate Honours degree (where I was the Senior Lecturer in the department’s and gave the final year class in Keynesian Public Finance). 
When I turned up for Professor Friedman’s lecture I was amazed to find a large number of University uniformed janitors in attendance, standing around the walls of the large lecture room and at the front of the platform, from where Professor Friedman was to speak and the University Principal was in the chair the proceedings. 
On asking the Head Porter what was going on (I knew him well from my student days) he told me it was pre-cautionary in case there was trouble from the large audience (by them packing every seat) and hinted they had received information suggesting a ‘riot’ was possible!  In the event there was no trouble, not even hostile interruptions or questions. 
True, the student newspaper had carried stories commenting on Friedman’s ‘unwelcome’ visit (“Friend of Pinochet’s Chile”, etc) and some hostile leaflets had been tossed around the campus, but nobody I knew expected discourteous manners, let alone a ‘riot’!  Indeed, the audience, staff and students, warmly applauded Professor Friedman at the end of his visit particularly for his opening line: “Greetings from the Republic of Letters” and his very evident courteous manners and his clear intellectual coherence, even though many of the economics staff and Honours students did not agree with his remedies for replacing the Keynesian orthodoxy, then on its last legs (until the latest world recession where it is trying to make its come-back).
So intellectual discord is present in anthropology and economics (and for all I know in other disciplines too), but discord over ideas is never acceptable when it becomes personal.
Note how Malthus and Ricardo carried on their debate in their correspondence for many years without either of them stooping to breaches of scholarly manners.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Poor Analogies Can Be Misleading

Stephen Kinsella writes in the Irish Independent HERE 
Austerity is like 'bleeding' the patient – and may be as deadly
In the late 18th Century in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, a doctor named Francois Quesnay met Adam Smith. Adam Smith wrote the founding text of economics in 1776 and influenced Quesnay as much as Quesnay influenced Smith. Quesnay was a scientist, one of the first of the medical profession who learned from scientific experiment as much as from direct, clinical experience.
Quesnay wanted to bring Smith's ideas and the new scientific mode of inquiry together. The circulation of blood around the organs of the body had just been discovered, and Quesnay wanted to apply this thinking to the economy. He produced the first national accounts for France, then the largest economy in the world, based on the idea that all wealth comes from surpluses generated by agriculture. Money was the blood that flowed around this system and the "pulse"' of the nation, in a sense, was how much output it was producing, or how much people were spending, or how much income people had. Because the economy was a closed system– much like an unpunctured human body – these three things, output, income, and expenditure, would amount to the same thing. Statisticians and economists use these national accounts to measure the value of the economy's output over some time. Things are pretty grim. Retail sales, which were looking up only a few months ago, are falling, no doubt as a result of sustained austerity, which reduces disposable income, and uncertainty surrounding the property tax. …
Three things explain the decline. First, austerity is working: personal expenditure fell by 3pc. This is down to austerity, pure and simple.
Second, credit constraints are biting: Capital investment dropped 7.4pc.
Third, the international economy is weakening somewhat, people are buying less of our stuff, and Ireland's pharmaceutical sector is falling slowly off a patent cliff, so the value of net exports also fell. Amazingly, government expenditure was about the same – no real drop at all.
The story of the Irish economy is one of sustained stagnation in key areas. The pulse is weakening. Doctors in Quesnay's time let their patients bleed to let out harmful "humours."
This weakened and sometimes killed the patient. This was later recognised as barbarism and abandoned. Ireland's policy of austerity is exactly like bloodletting, and history will recognise it is just as barbaric.”
Stephen Kinsalla writes for a general readership, explaining complex ideas developed by economists in language the general public can follow. I have no beefs with that approach at all.  The ability to communicate is too a rare skill and is commendable.
However, without denigrating Stephen Kinsalla’s exposition, I feel I must say something about the relevance and accuracy of his version of from the history of economic ideas. 
Economists rightly esteem Francois Quesnay for his pioneering work.  Adam Smith was much taken with Quesnay and his circle (the Physiocrats) during his visit to France in 1764-66 with the young Duke of Buccleugh (who later played a crucial role in Smith's life). 
Quesnay authored the first “Tableau Economique”, in an attempt to make economics an exact science, which received many adulatory responses from those in his circle and elsewhere, and since.  However, Quesnay did not “produce the first national accounts for France”; his Tableau was purely illustrative of the effects of the arithmetic flow of wealth (nominally illustrated by 2,000 Livres) in the forms of ‘advances’, ‘receipts’,  ‘net products’, ’receipts to the productive classes’ and to the ‘sterile classes’, and the subsequent potential equilibrium, unless too much was diverted from ‘productive activity’ to ‘sterile activity’ (from Alexander Gray’s “The Development of Economic Doctrine”, 1st ed. 1931 – still used as a textbook in Edinburgh University’s Political Economy Classes in the early 1960s).  Quesnay’s Tableau was more about the possibilities of notional accounting for an economy rather than the actualities of today’s national accounts, which measure everything, whereas Physiocratic theory only considered agriculture to be “productive”, while all else, including industry and commerce, were “sterile”, that is, they did not produce anything or add to “net product” because they only consumed “productive” output.
Kinsalla in his article sees Quesnay's early idea of the Tableau as a prelude to 20th-century National Income Accounting practice, which today is a major background theme to much modern political argument over the state of an economy.
Kinsalla’s account of the current Irish economy is used as a criticism of what he calls “austerity and also draws on Quesnay’s work for an analogy between the necessity of the circular flow of blood in the human body and the flow of economic transactions, particularlyvia an analogy between the “barbaric” practice of “bloodletting” supposedly to rid the human body of bad “humours”, which weakened, possibly killing, patients rather then  curring them.
Stephen Kinsalla compares 18th-century bloodletting to “Ireland's policy of austerity” and claims that “history will recognise it is just as barbaric.”   It’s a good debating point for a students’ debating club or an ill informed parliamentary or conference speechwriter. 
Except for one significant fallacy.  Extending, for the moment, Kinsalla’s bloodletting analogy, by considerong the modern practice of blood transfusion from human to human, a practice that saves millions of lives across the world, and without which many patients would surely die if their blood flows out, or it is not generated from within a healthy body for some reason.
That is analogous to the problem with debt when the donors no longer believe that the patient is taking measures to generate the necessary flows between its sectors to earn sufficient to pay back their debts in the original lending agreement as expected, and therefore lenders become reluctant, at first, to continue lending at the original relatively low rates of interest, or worse, lend at all.  Lenders charge penal rates of interest before ceasing to lend at all. In so far as Stephen Kinsalla’s analogy has any relevance to Ireland’s debts, it is surely not “barbaric” for existing commercial lenders to refrain from lending, which surely is prudence – its their money. 
In today’s world, friendly governments or international bodies may step in on a debt crisis on a temporary basis but surely cannot be expected to lend/donate continuous bailouts, especially if the borrower shows no signs of altering its economic behaviour.  
Kinsalla calls this similar to the ancient mistaken medical policy of “bloodletting”. 
I call his expectation that an Irish government should increase its already risky debt-based spending to avert the consequences of the years (decades even) by borrowing yet more money (assuming willing creditors) to spend more borrowed money rather alter its behaviour and earn it from within its national economy and its foreign trade.  In current circumstances, more borrowing is an unreasonable expectation, suggesting reckless prodigals who have learnt nothing from the mess it is already in from living with substantial amounts of borrowed money.  Creditors read Ireland’s national accounts and Irish company accounts too.
Smith reserved his most strident passages in Wealth Of Nations (WN II.iii.1-40: 330-49) for his condemnation of “spendthrifts” and  “prodigals” in an economy, and he praises “parsimony” and “frugality” as safer policies.  I suggest a reading of his strictures is a helpful guide (even if his language seems a trite old-school today in our debt ridden world) and they are a corrective to policies of the ‘when in debt borrow more’ school of politics prevalent on this side of the Irish Sea too.
I think Stephen Kinsalla is too ready to rely on a Francois Quesnay’s analogy, much as I appreciate him introducing the grand-old economist to readers of The Irish Independent, though ‘tis a pity he developed a false analogy.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Attacking Adam Smith For Neoclassical Assertions About Self-Interest is To Miss the Point

“The Collectivistic Premise” by Eli Merchant
HERE  Eli Merchant lives in New York City and he has taught at a number of colleges.
The Collectivistic Premise views economics from a new perspective, acknowledging the influence of art, philosophy, history, psychology, ethics and other factors not often looked at, and challenges the premises on which economic thought has been conventionally based. According to Adam Smith and many subsequent economists, self-interest is the only motive driving human beings in the economic sphere, and consequently the only true guarantor of human productivity and wealth creation. Government regulation and ethical considerations are irrelevant and counterproductive in this regard, however high principled and noble their motivation.
While this explanation may account for some aspects of economic behavior in the market place that can be labeled as “utilitarian” and “individualistic,” this book takes note of a new principle, the “collectivistic” premise, whether reflected in consumption, work, and trade, that has not received its merited attention. Human beings act not only of self-serving motives but also out of communal ones so that the market place assumes a character and personality larger than its constituent parts. Far from being irrelevant, ethical, political and communal considerations are central to comprehending its nature and function. The role of the emerging global economy and advances in technology provide even stronger incentives to examine in detail this neglected aspect of human motivation and conduct.
According to Adam Smith and many subsequent economists, self-interest is the only motive driving human beings in the economic sphere, and consequently the only true guarantor of human productivity and wealth creation.
At the very least this absolutist view if applied to Adam Smith is contentious.   It may have resonance with those economists applying the neoclassical paradigm in the past half-a-century or so, especially those unfamiliar with Smith’s “Moral Sentiments”, but it does not reflect self-interest in Smithian political economy, especially if it assumes that self-interest takes a singular form, nor that of more modern economic ideas associated with some (but not all) Austrians and people such as Hayek.
Neoclassical economists separate economics not just from societies as they operate and have long operated in the real world, but also from actual human behaviours generally.  The monolithic self-interest of the mathematical mind is fitted into a one-dimensional theory of human behaviour (brilliantly identified as'MaxU" by Deirdre McCloskey).  One-dimensional is the only way that the complex shades of human motivations can work in calculus and produce basic curves so wonderfully illustrated in basic textbook diagrams and memorised by brigades of students.  Once these familiar Economics 101 diagrams are etched in the visual memories of graduates, the implications of much in postgraduate minds becomes Jesuit-like irremovable, especially those who have never studied Smithian political economy, which just about covers most of them.
Far from being irrelevant, ethical, political and communal considerations are central to comprehending its nature and function.”
Adam Smith would agree with that statement, which kind of limits the relevance of Eli Merchant’s supposed “new perspective” for so long as he includes his false idea of Adam Smith's ideas in it.
For Smith, man is and always was a social animal.  He has never been a lone figure facing an utterly hostile world.  Hobbes’s assertion of a solitary life of man ”as poor, nasty, brutish, and short” is imaginative to suit his subsequent thesis and never was a description of mankind (it does not even correspond to the lives of our nearest cousins, the chimpanzees, who like us share a common ancestor).  Man has always lived in societies with other men (and, of course, women) and mostly lived long enough to breed feed the group and thereby propagate the species for the past 200,000 years (and h=our predecessors for several millions years before then, whatever bronze-age tribes after 800 BCE wandering around the near-East imagined.  At the minimum, all human societies involved degrees of co-operation, the basis for Eli Merchant’s “new collectivist premise”.
I have not read the whole of his short book but it is on order and I shall return to it in due course.

A New Play on Adam Smith at the Edinburgh Festival, 2-26 August!

In The Edinburgh Reporter (“a capital  read”) HERE we have:
“Adam Smith, le Grand Tour, Institut français d’Ecosse,” 2 to 26 August 3pm during the world famous annual International Edinburgh Festival.
One of this year’s Festival’s many attractions is:
Compagnie Les Labyrinthes presents Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour, an original creation for the Fringe mixing theatre and video for a journey back in time to the origins of the thought of the key figure of Scottish Enlightenment.
In Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour, Compagnie Les Labyrinthes takes us on a journey through Adam Smith’s thought and work. Incorporating economics, philosophy and theatre, this original creation is an invitation to go back to the founding principles of liberalism, the context of the Scottish Enlightenment and the influence of Adam Smith’s thought on our modern society.
Through the eyes of the two protagonists Marie (Vanessa Oltra) and Fred (Fréderic Kneip) who have embarked on a journey through Scotland to complete their own ‘Grand Tour’, “Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour” is a sharply written, humorous and caustic homage to the legacy of the philosopher.  Neither an economic nor a philosophical treaty, it makes us wonder: what remains of Adam Smith today? And what have we done with his thought?
Coming to Scotland in summer 2012, Compagnie Les Labyrinthes followed in the footsteps of Adam Smith and visited the places in Edinburgh and around related to his life and work. They brought back from this trip the videos that would become fully part of their multimedia production. World premiering at this year’s Fringe in its English version, Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour will then be touring in France in a French version.
Based in Aquitaine, in south-western France, Compagnie Les Labyrinthes was founded in 1995 by Gérard David, teacher at the Merignac Conservatory. Compagnie Les Labyrinthes has so far produced about thirty classic and contemporary theatre projects. In addition to the creation of theatre shows, the company is actively working on programmes of artistic education intended to schools.
Author of the show and performer Vanessa Oltra holds a PhD in Economics and is a senior lecturer at the University of Bordeaux IV. Former student at the Merignac Conservatory, she has been working with Gérard David for several years. Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour is her first theatre project involving both her researcher’s and author’s skills.
Frédéric Kneip is a performer and director. Former student at the Rennes Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and and the Merignac Conservatory, he regularly plays with different companies, including Compagnie Les Labyrinthes. In parallel, he is working on artistic education in prison.
Interesting that an Adam Smith artistic theme participates in the Edinburgh Festival once again. Regular readers will recall I covered another play about Adam Smith that I enjoyed, presented some years ago by a well-informed and enthusiastic amateur group.  I looked for a repeat in subsequent years from the same group (most of them from a much younger generation that myself! - but a couple of people of my age). 
Last year, I reported on a play about Adam Smith dying and going to a sort of heaven, where he met and discoursed with David Hume, which was presented by a known Scottish professional author and played by some professional actors.  Artistically it was somewhat imaginative (poetic license I suppose!), but also very entertaining.  Hume was, well David as we know him, a serious moral philosopher, and Adam was played as an allegedly formerly repressed gay, exercising in the after life his new freedoms without the watchful and censorious eyes of his mother, Margaret Douglas Smith, who, I am sure, would have been relaxed by anything her son did as long as he remained a Calvinist in good standing.
Unfortunately, I am unable to attend this year’s Adam Smith play from my absence in France (in Aquitaine, near Bordeaux, as it happens, from where the joint authors come from, and where Adam Smith visited in 1764 on his visit to France, 1764-65, though if perchance I could squeeze it in next week before I go I may very well might.
Visitors to Scotland who attend this year’s Edinburgh Festival, a cultural festival to suit all tastes, in the beautiful capital of Scotland, have a wide variety of events both in the official festival and in the lively Fringe Festival with its scores of shows and events to choose from.  The Fringe is now bigger than the official Festival.  It is deeply international in scope.

[NB: Should I return from France earlier at the end of July, my “Adam Smith Tour of Edinburgh” will also re-commence.  Should any reader be interested in a personal guided 2-hour tour from his statue, opposite where he worked at the Customs House, to where he lived and discoursed with other luminaries of the Scottish Enlightenment from 1778-90, including a visit to his grave at the Canongate Parish Church and where he lived almost next door at Panmure House.   Ending at a well known coffee house diagonally opposite Canongate Church.  (There is no charge for this tour).
Readers who are interested in the "Adam Smith Tour" can drop me a line at the address at the head of Lost Legacy.]

Credulity and the "Invisible Hand"

“James Grant on CNBC: 'Adam Smith's Invisible Hand' Will Prevail in the End  HERE
Adam Smith's Invisible Hand”
“Grant argued on CNBC that Adam Smith's "invisible hand," or natural market forces, will inevitably prevail in relation to asset prices despite the near constant intervention and price manipulation employed by the Federal Reserve ever since the financial crisis.
The risk is that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" will reassert itself, and central bank intervention and manipulation will eventually unleash devastating unintended consequences.”
Adam Smith said nothing about the Invisible-Hand metaphor being about  “natural market forces” – he never mentioned the two together. 
James Grant is copying what most modern economists say because earlier in the post-WWII, modern era (from 1948 to be precise) the connection between Adam Smith’s use of the IH metaphor and the (perfect) market was invented, primarily by Paul Samuelson.
Note how James Grant also extends Smith’s meaning, having repeated what he may have learned innocently: “Adam Smith's "invisible hand" will reassert itself” and “will eventually unleash devastating unintended consequences” as if the “invisible hand” is some sort of a mysterious conscious entity, or even the “hand of god” like many 18th-century preachers and theologians believed.
Moreover, note how James Grant reverses Adam Smith’s meaning that the individual risk-averse motives of some, but not all (the majority invest locally for a multitude of other reasons), merchants who acted in a specific way to protect themselves, that is Smith used the IH metaphor to "describe in a more striking and more interesting manner" (Smith, "Lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres", 1762) the risk-averse cause of their actions of investing locally in “domestic industry”, rather than risking sending his capital abroad in “foreign trade.  The result of such actions had “unintended consequences”, specifically, by their actions they added to investment in “domestic industry”, which was a “public benefit” (in modern terms a larger GNP implies better outcomes for the domestic economy for more consumers). Note, Smith implies that those merchants who take the risks inherent in foreign trade reduce potential GDP domestic value-added by the amount they send abroad.  The IH metaphor refers to the causes of the risk-averse actions (using modern terminology), that is, it was not a metaphor for the consequences of their actions! The consequences came later - and they were unintended.
But what does James Grant misuse of the “Adam Smith's invisible-hand” do other than reverse the relationship between motives, actions and consequences?  He states that the “invisible hand” causes its consequences, in this case, namely it will “eventually unleash devastating unintended consequences”, because the IH will punishes transgressors! 
I see here more than a hint of 'a jealous God' in James Grant’s formulation.  He is more like an angry Old Testament prophet of doom, threatening future punishments by a mystic force, not a God, but an “invisible hand” of a mysterious invisible entity. 
Come to think of it, that is precisely what pagan Romans (and ancient Greeks before them) believed about the very visible stone statue of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill of Rome.  It was supposed to remind all credulous citizens that the all pervasive Jupiter, King of the Invisible Gods, would strike down with his thunderbolts fired from his invisible finger on his invisible hand anyone threatening the Roman Emperor! What else did they believe about lightning strikes other than Jupiter punishing someone? Some Emperors produced coins with images of Jupiter's thunderbolts on them, especially to remind those citizens living in the distant reaches of the Empire far from the City of Rome and sight of the glowering face of the stone Jupiter.  
James Grant likewise produces images in the minds of credulous readers who ignore the risks of visible price price movements.  Prices, unlike motives, are visible, so why does anybody need an invisible entity?
Just how credulous is James Grant - and his readers?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ending the Causes of Poverty or Perpetuating it?

Sam Bowman posts on “The Pin Factory Blog” (Adam Smith Institute) HERE:
Don't hate the players, hate the game”, is about the tricky questions of how we could get from current welfare policies to deal with poverty, which I commented on yesterday. 
Interestingly, in the comments section, “Nullius in Verba” asks:
Is it lack of skills, or attitude, or bad behaviour, or attendant costs (like uniforms or getting in to work), or lack of experience, or the employer's overhead costs, or legal barriers, or regulation, or worker's rights, or unions, are a lot of them drug addicts, is it about debt, or living beyond their means, is the problem getting childcare cover, or what? What's the problem? Why are some people persistently poor?
Only when you understand the problem can you hope to find a solution. Money spent fixing it, and getting people back into productive work, is money well spent. Money spent perpetuating the problem, keeping them in poverty indefinitely without ever solving it, is both a waste of taxpayer's money and a wicked waste of human lives.”
I found this aspect of the discussion interesting because it moves the discussion of the ‘game’ from arguing by sloganising simple remedies that abound with distribution issues without considering the actualities of where a society settles as a cumulative result of past policies that emerged from an imperfect ‘bread and circuses’ legislative process since Beveridge to where it might be preferable to move towards. But cause it doesn’t answer the questions posed by “Nullius in Verba”. 
[When translated by “Maria” (via Google): Nullius in Verbais the Latin motto of the Royal Society of London, the UK’s national academy of science, mean[ing] literaly :
"On the words of no one", as NULLIUS (genitive case) corresponds to 'of no one’ and IN VERBA to “on the words”. In fact the motto of the Royal society points out that we must believe in the words of nobody, but we have to use science to establish “the truth of scientific matters through experiment rather than through citation of authority”.]
Now that that is clear, I think “Nullius in Verba” opens the door to the kind of discussions that add more to the debate on dealing with poverty than the sloganising from Left and Right, and against which moderate Libertarians ought to have much more to offer.   We should note that Adam Smith was elected (FRS) to the Royal Society (London) and a founder member (FRSE) of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Of course, towards which end we prefer scientific experiment to apply is conditioned by the means to which we Libertarians suggest we aim the necessary social experiments.  The current ends of the very expensive billions spent on welfare-state policies are not clear; they are more palliative by well-meaning attempts to try to make poverty more bearable, not aiming in some way to remove the causes of poverty over any particular even long time period. 
The soft left want to redistribute ‘bankers bonuses’, etc., and ‘tax the rich owners of mansions’, etc., [declared interests: I do not own a mansion, nor am I paid a banker’s bonus.] But Robin Hood solutions do not make that much difference to the billions spent on current palliative measures.  The hard left wants to redistribute all ‘wealth’, much of which is in fixed property and largely wealth-dependent on the existence of high relative prices as private property (consider the rows of empty properties in Ireland and Spain). Confiscating such ‘wealth’ is not easily redistributed as public property for the poor (as the Bolsheviks may have realised after moving into the mansions themselves).
Remind ourselves that “the truth of scientific matters [is] through experiment”, including what has been tried up to current times.  Instead, we can start with particular problems and address ourselves to practical means of attempting to solve them gradually.  From there we consider outcomes.  That’s the pragmatic and Smithian way.  Remember, Adam Smith warned in Wealth Of Nations that to believe that tariffs could be abolished entirely was “utopian” (WN IV.ii.43: 471).
If the removal of the causes of poverty were the objective, as I believe it ought to be, the appropriate means would be found by small, local experiments.  We select and improve what works and cast aside what doesn’t work, whatever ideologists say to the contrary.  This might take some time and disappoint people in a hurry, but the current Welfare State, whatever its localised palliative effects, takes longer time replacing the old generations with new generations of poverty, and the palliative costs rise inexorably, provoking ‘caps’ and more expensive bureaucracy to manage it, while the national economic damage of unbalanced State burdens on the productive economy becomes a political football, with interludes of ‘pass the parcel’ as new governments take-over to continue the poverty game, supposedly on new, albeit attractive ‘palliative’ terms.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Handbook on Adam Smith Published

When the definitive, six-volume “Glasgow Edition of Adam Smith of the WORKS AND CORRESPONDENCE OF ADAM SMITH” appeared from Oxford University Press to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the Wealth Of Nations in 1976, with subsequent publications of his less well known Works through to 1983 Smithian scholarship received a major boost. Companion volumes, “Essays on Adam Smith”, 1975, edited by Andrew S. Skinner and Thomas Wilson, and The Life of Adam Smith by Ian S. Ross, 1995, promoted deeper interest in Adam Smith’s scholarly contributions, which grew considerably after 1983.
The beginnings of a spate of books, research papers and scholarship soon became evident, and not just among economists. It takes time for new and even old ideas to take hold. For instance many economists often quote him, or rather attribute their versions of his ideas to him, fairly regularly and as regularly clearly have not yet read any of his works, including Wealth Of Nations. 
Nevertheless, that spate of interest in Adam Smith has widened and continues today in full flood, firmly establishing Adam Smith scholarship in the Academy, and not just among economists, but also among philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, political studies, English language and linguistics scholars, and among the Natural Sciences, including mathematics and physics. 
Smith was never a single-subject scholar. 
He was also a moral philosopher, an historian of science and human societies, a scholar in jurisprudence (for which he was awarded a LL.D by Glasgow University in 1764), a rhetorician and a grammarian, and participated regularly in discussions with several leading figures at Panmure House, Edinburgh, 1778-90, and in the societies, formal and informal, whose wider influence on European thinking across many fields is now known as the Scottish Enlightenment.
A new study of Adam Smith’s scholarship, reflecting recent research by 28 new and longstanding scholars across the whole spectrum of Smith’s interests, has just appeared from Oxford University Press.
Three well-respected Smithian scholars, Christopher J. Berry, Maria Pia Paganelli, and Craig Smith (two of whom are from Glasgow University), edited the 28 contributions, and contributed their own essays.  It promises to be an authoritative account of recent work on Adam Smith and will be widely referred to in the coming decades.
THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF ADAM SMITH, Edited by Christopher J. Berry, Maria Pia Paganelli, and Craig Smith. Oxford University Press. Oxford Handbooks in Economics 656 pages ISBN978-0-19-960506-4 Hardback Published: 16 May 2013 Price:  £95.00
Adam Smith (1721-90) is a thinker with a distinctive perspective on human behaviour and social institutions. He is best known as the author of the An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Yet his work is name-checked more often than it is read and then typically it is of an uninformed nature; that he is an apologist for capitalism, a forceful promoter of self-interest, a defender of greed and a critic of any 'interference' in market transactions. To offset this caricature, this Handbook provides an informed portrait. Drawing on the expertise of leading Smith scholars from around the world, it reflects the depth and breadth of Smith's intellectual interests. After an introductory outline chapter on Smith's life and times, the volume comprises 28 new essays divided into seven parts. Five sections are devoted to particular themes in Smith's corpus - his views on Language, Art and Culture; his Moral Philosophy; his Economic thought, his discussions of History and Politics and his analyses of Social Relations. These five parts are framed by one that focuses on the immediate and proximate sources of his thought and the final one that recognizes Smith's status as a thinker of world-historical significance - indicating both his posthumous impact and influence and his contemporary resonance. While each chapter is a discrete contribution to scholarship, the Handbook comprises a composite whole to enable the full range of Smith's work to be appreciated.” 
Michael C. Amrozowicz, The State University of New York at Albany
Tony Aspromourgos, University of Sydney
Christopher J. Berry, University of Glasgow
Richard Boyd, Georgetown University
Tom Campbell, Australian National University
James Chandler, University of Chicago
Christel Fricke, Heidelberg University
Samuel Fleischacker, University of Illinois-Chicago
Ryan Patrick Hanley, Marquette University
Maureen Harkin, Reed College
Eugene Heath, State University of New York
Duncan Kelly, University of Cambridge
Gavin Kennedy, Heriot-Watt University
Catherine Labio, University of Colorado at Boulder
David M. Levy, George Mason University
Leonidas Montes, University of Cambridge
Nerio Naldi, University of Rome 'La Sapienza'
Spencer J. Pack, Connecticut College
Maria Pia Paganelli, Trinity University
Nicholas Phillipson, Edinburgh University
Sandra J. Peart, University of Richmond
Dennis C. Rasmussen, Tufts University
Hugh Rockoff, Rutgers University
Amartya Sen, Harvard University
Fabrizio Simon, University of Palermo
Craig Smith, The University of St Andrews (since October 2013, Glasgow University)
C. Jan Swearingen, Texas A&M University
Spiros Tegos, The University of Crete
Edwin van de Haar, Ateneo de Manila University
Christopher J. Berry: Adam Smith: Outline of Life, Times, and Legacy 
Part One  Adam Smith: Heritage and Contemporaries
1: Nicholas Phillipson: Adam Smith: A Biographer's Reflections 
2: Leonidas Montes: Newtonianism and Adam Smith
 3: Dennis C. Rasmussen: Adam Smith and Rousseau: Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment  
4: Christopher J. Berry: Adam Smith and Early Modern Thought
 Part Two: Adam Smith on Language, Art and Culture
5:  Catherine Labio: Adam Smith's Aesthetics
 6: James Chandler: Adam Smith as Critic 
7: Michael C. Amrozowicz: Adam Smith: History and Poetics
 8: C. Jan Swearingen: Adam Smith on Language and Rhetoric: The Ethics of Style, Character, and Propriety
 Part Three: Adam Smith and Moral Philosophy 
9: Christel Fricke: Adam Smith: The Sympathetic Process and the Origin and Function of Conscience
10: Duncan Kelly: Adam Smith and the Limits of Sympathy
 11: Ryan Patrick Hanley: Adam Smith and Virtue
 12: Eugene Heath: Adam Smith and Self-Interest
 Part Four: Adam Smith and Economics 
13: Tony Aspromourgos: Adam Smith on Labour and Capital
 14: Nerio Naldi: Adam Smith on Value and Prices 
15: Hugh Rockoff: Adam Smith on Money, Banking, and the Price Level
1 6: Maria Pia Paganelli: Commercial Relations: from Adam Smith to Field Experiments
 Part Five: Adam Smith on History and Politics 
17: Spiros Tegos: Adam Smith: Theorist of Corruption
 18: David M. Levy & Sandra J. Peart: Adam Smith and the State: Language and Reform
 19: Fabrizio Simon: Adam Smith and the Law 
20: Edwin van de Haar: Adam Smith on Empire and International Relations
 Part Six: Adam Smith on Social Relations 
21: Richard Boyd: Adam Smith, Civility, and Civil Society 
22: Gavin Kennedy: Adam Smith on Religion
 23: Samuel Fleischacker: Adam Smith and Equality 
24: Maureen Harkin: Adam Smith and Women
 Part Seven; Adam Smith: Legacy and Influence
 25: Spencer J. Pack: Adam Smith and Marx 
26: Craig Smith: Adam Smith and the New Right 
27: Tom Campbell: Adam Smith: Methods, Morals and Markets
 28: Amartya Sen: The Contemporary Relevance of Adam Smith.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

(24 June)
I was surprised by [Mark Littlewood’s , the Director-General of the IEA] piece in the Mail on Sunday this weekend. Mark proposes a public register of everyone claiming benefits of any kind – pensions, disability living allowance, jobseeker’s allowance, and so on. This strikes me as a very bad idea indeed.” …
“In my experience, most unemployed people are profoundly ashamed of being unemployed. Removing their privacy, exposing them to gossiping neighbours and their children to bullying classmates, will just make that even worse.” …
“These proposals would humiliate people on benefits and rob them of their privacy. They don’t deserve it. Many (probably most) of them are dependent on welfare because of the state itself, and it is senseless to make their lives even more difficult instead of tackling the real causes of their poverty.
“If you think that unemployment is largely caused by government mismanagement of the economy, it makes no sense to humiliate people for being out of work. If you think that government welfare has crowded out private charity, you shouldn’t blame people forced to rely on government disability benefits. If you blame planning regulations for the high cost of housing, you should focus on those regulations before you cut off the money that mitigates the problem for a few poor people.” …
“To me, this is one of the key messages that ‘bleeding heart’ libertarians need to get across to other free marketeers. Cutting back the state is a bit like a game of Jenga – if you blithely pull away the supports that people rely on before you take away the causes of that reliance, you’ll only end up making things worse.”
Follow the link and read the whole of Sam’s short post.
(Disclosure: I am a Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute).
I was pleased to read Sam’s post because it coincides with my own views as a moderate libertarian, a stance that is not popular with some libertarians of a more radical disposition (such as followers of Ayn Rand).
Political economy, at least as I understand it in the context of Adam Smith’s Works, is not about blaming the poor for being poor, or, indeed, admiring the rich for being rich.   There are feckless layabouts right across the income distribution who are fed by the work of others. Both wealth creators, who in Smith’s thoughts were productive, and some of their relatives who are prodigal layabouts in the consumption of the output of the productive, and at the other end of the spectrum, among the regular consumers of productive from their state-benefits, paid for from the taxation of the productive.  But both these ends of the spectrum in the main are minorities. Desirable as it may be, reducing the number of these minorities requires more complex solutions than moral crusades with simple solutions and slogans.  
The short-cuts advocated by some without considering the heavy social cost in human terms is not an element of a liberal libertarian.  The Bolsheviks tried the ‘short-cut’ strategy as did the Maoist communists and the Kymer Rouge, with appalling costs in human lives.  Human societies have never worked like that, though a few have ended that way, and the glaring examples of the surviving remnants of a few hunter-gatherer groups still functioning with the early technologies of the deep past that show human life as it never evolved socially like the ones we live in.  They are much admired by visiting scientists but very few choose to live their lives out with them and without modern technology, outside Tarzan fantisies.
Societies evolve gradually creating possibilities that are easily wasted in the all to easy options of ‘short-cut’ politics, which usually end in tyrannical personal gains of a few at the expense of the many, especially those few who are parasitic.  The stone detritus of the civilisations left after they self-destructed, created today’s archeological science and accompanying rich tourist trails.
Sam is right: if we want to eliminate poverty (and feckless super-consumption) we should address that problem and not punish the poor and their children as a short-term ‘fix’ under knee-jerk sloganising.  I expect nothing much from the extremes of left or right, but do from Libertarians.
Sam Bowman’s few paragraphs are a step in the direction I wish to go.
As a moderate libertarian, this is only my opinion and I have no intention of forcing it on anyone.
If this makes me a “bleeding heart Libertarian” – I think I can live with that label.