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  1. Dissing "The Theory of Moral Sentiments": Twenty-Six Critics, from 1765 to 1949

    • On “Circa 1800,” another two thoughts:

      1. Deirdre McCloskey. 2008. Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists. History of Political Economy 40(1): 43-71, maintains that Smith was more or less the last to treat ethics in terms of virtues.

      2. In the decade or so after Smith’s death, natural jurisprudence was no longer taught in the Scottish universities. See pp. 314-316, implicating Dugald Stewart, of James Moore. 2006. Natural Rights in the Scottish Enlightenment. In Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought, eds M. Goldie and R. Wokler. CUP: 291-316.

    • 11 comments
    • First comment 11 Jun 2018 by Daniel Klein
    • Last comment 31 Jan 2023 by Daniel Klein
  2. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

  3. Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists

    • To judge McCloskey’s paper in terms of Smithian virtue, I think that she ought to be praised for bringing uncommon judgment and insight to the analysis of Smith’s mission as a moral philosopher, and vision as a social scientist. The goal of rescuing Smith from the purely economic and modern point of view is worthy and relevant still today. Her recognition of his shared perspective with the virtue ethicists of ancient and medieval times and her argument that he can only be understood through this prism are valuable and largely correct.

      However, I believe McCloskey falls somewhat short of the ideal in terms of her argument simply because the comparison cannot be stretched as far as she seems to hope. If Adam Smith was a virtue ethicist, he was a virtue ethicist of a very different kind than his ancient or medieval predecessors. And though there are important differences between Aristotle and Aquinas, it is clear that in significant ways, these two are closer to each other than either is to Smith.

      An important division between Smith and his predecessors is the way he sees virtue cultivated. For Aristotle and Aquinas, we discover virtue by examining man’s end, or ultimate purpose, and then by discovering the types of habits which will lead to the fulfillment of that end. Though these habits may be similar in kind to Smithian virtues, they are approached by way of reason rather than observation. Smith, in contrast, has very little to say about the content of man’s nature, other than that we are inclined (perhaps in universal agreement) to praise some actions and blame others. Smith seems to remain agnostic about whether this is an end in the mode of Aristotle, or merely a consequence of natural forces.

      Smith’s departure from Aristotle, and his adoption of enlightenment epistemology, makes McCloskey’s argument slightly misleading. And this does become especially apparent, as the previous comments have pointed out, when she attempts to make a place for hope and faith in Smith’s enlightenment virtue system. Here I agree with Steve Kunath that McCloskey is mistaken in her appeal to Aquinas. For to Aquinas, faith and hope are very specific theological virtues, both forward looking, and both connected specifically with man’s end in an exclusively Christian sense. They are not the secular-friendly virtues McCloskey would make them.

      And it is only in this very theological sense that faith and hope can exist as “primary colors,” as McCloskey defines Smith’s five essential virtues. Brian Bedient is right is to classify McCloskey’s versions of faith and hope as secondary virtues. The hope for a better future that Smith envisions is substantially different from Aquinas’ hope for the mercy of God. While I think Smith does indeed have every intention of recommending virtuous existence (rather than merely providing a descriptive account of human action), I believe that faith and hope as they existed in earlier virtue ethics have no place in his work. The faith and hope which appear in McCloskey’s article are of an entirely different kind, and do not need to be added to Smith’s list of primary virtues.

    • 6 comments
    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 14 Nov 2012 by Todd Peckarsky
  4. Mankiw vs. DeLong and Krugman on the CEA’s Real GDP Forecasts in Early 2009: What Might a Time Series Econometrician Have Said?

    • And which econometrician will regard this blatant misrepresentation of the facts as proof that the economics profession has been hijacked by corporate speaking engagement fees and simplistic right wingers who have a criticism for everything, but reverence for only the practice of doing less (so the ‘free market’ can work its magic, don’t you see?) I really hope the state of economics improves to the point where people like Cushman and Mankiw will be held to account for their lies, but remembering Nial Ferguson’s hack journalism in Newsweek reminds me that their are lots more inane fact manipulating liars to go through first. Oh yeah, and Phil Gramm has something to say about the economy in the WSJ. I assume its not that we are still in a “mental recession” as this “nation of whiners” was in 2008? Jeez, the fact these people even get writing gigs anymore makes me want to steal things from 7 eleven.

    • 5 comments
    • First comment 23 Sep 2012 by Brooks
    • Last comment 24 Sep 2012 by Alex Nash
  5. Religion, Heuristics, and Intergenerational Risk Management

    • Links to discussions of debt from non-Abrahamic lineages:

      http://www.academia.edu/1122076/Buddhist_Explanations_on_the_Fundamental_Factors_of_Debts

      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an06/an06.045.than.html

      Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers on Monastic Buddhism … By Gregory Schopen

    • 5 comments
    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Tom Garnett
    • Last comment 15 Aug 2015 by G. Ashton
  6. Advanced Placement Economics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    • I totally concur with this article. I had three kids of mine go through AP economics, both micro and macro. I was appalled – the material was 30 years behind the times, both micro and macro. AP economics is confirming the worst stereotypes of what economics is about. And it was boring, boring, boring, even to me.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 25 Jan 2011 by Paul Johnson
    • Last comment 16 Mar 2011 by David B
  7. The Ideological Profile of Harvard University Press: Categorizing 494 Books Published 2000-2010

    • The percentages in Table 1 are difficult to interpret. There are no 100% totals in this table so we can’t tell if the cell percentages are column percentages or row percentages. With effort, one can determine that all the percentages — except those in the bottom row — are column percentages. Putting 100% totals at the bottom of each column would facilitate understanding. , Showing the prevalence of each subject area could be done in the column titles, in the body or in a separate row below the 100% column totals.
      Figure 1 would have been more useful if the percentages were of “All Ideological HUP Books Surveyed” so the percentages would add to 100%.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 24 Jan 2011 by Hal Luft
    • Last comment 16 Feb 2011 by Milo Schield
  8. The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns

    • Constant provides an enlightening look at the concept of liberty in ancient western civilizations. For the ancients, liberty came through collective and direct participation in the polity. Life was affirmed through the polity: the alternative was to live as a barbarian. Freedom came collectively and was a privilege that could be taken away by the polity. Constant doesn’t mention that in some way such privileged liberty is similar to that of the towns and burghs that developed during the Medieval period, where citizens faced returning to manor life should they not temper themselves to the rules of the city (to be sure, the liberty that emerged in Medieval burghs resembled more closely individual modern liberty).

      Constant delivered his lecture in 1819, but his insistence on affirming that modern liberty is individual – as opposed to the collectivized liberty of the ancients – is as important today as it was then. He criticizes Rousseau , de Mably, and Montesquieu for conflating ancient and modern liberty in an attempt to assert the power of the state – and those at its helm. Still today – though perhaps without reference to ancient philosophy – illiberal thinkers assert that liberty comes through the state and is not held individually. In a very nice small section on commerce, Constant talks about ‘owning’ being merely a use-right to a piece of land; something we see today in the bundle theory of rights.

      He ends with a beautiful call for institutions to carry out the moral education of their citizens, not by forcing upon them some interpretation of morality, but by respecting their individual rights and creating proper incentives for moral behavior and civic participation. He mentions institutions in the context of the work of the legislature, but doesn’t say explicitly that all such institutions must come from the state, leaving one to think he refers not only to institutions of government but also those created by the culture and the market.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 15 Apr 2011 by Ariel Nerbovig
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Stephanie Myla Helmick
  9. Entrepreneurship and Islam: An Overview

    • Are you aware of English language resources which make apparent the main schools of thought and areas of unresolved discussion in current religious and/or secular debates in Islamic entrepreneurship and/or finance?

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 31 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 03 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  10. Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology

    • What is the null hypothesis here? You appear to be assuming that absent the pressures you describe, faculty would resemble the US population. But it’s well known that, other things equal, those with more education tend to be Democrats.

      I suggest a better comparison would be with scientists, who have high levels of education but don’t in general need to make their political views known at work. According to a Pew survey of AAAS members from 2009, 55 per cent of scientists are Democrats and only 6 per cent are Republicans.

      So, a parsimonious hypothesis is that faculty in the disciplines you study are a representative sample of highly educated (PhD +) Americans in general.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 02 Oct 2016 by John Quiggin
    • Last comment 17 Oct 2017 by Mitchell_Langbert
  11. Preference Falsification in the Economics Profession

    • When I was a cadet in my senior year, we had to take a class with the senior officer in charge of the ROTC department. One of the concepts that I remember him trying to drive home was that we were preparing to enter a “profession”. At the time it struck me that he was grinding some sense of inadequacy, looking for a word that would make his own career more significant in the way some janitors want to be called “sanitary engineers”. However, two elements of his definition of a profession have remained with me (I’m sure there were more). In the colonel’s definition, a career field was a profession if it had a body of knowledge and an ethical code of conduct. Merely having an expert knowledge of a field made you a technician, not a professional. The ethical code of conduct instructed you on how you were to use your expert knowledge, and provided purpose for professional practice.

      In the quote above, Davis is referring to what the important work of the economics profession is, rather than what is important to be successful in the profession in this particular quote, but in an ideal world, the latter should flow from the former. I believe many people come to the social sciences with a desire to make society better (we may not all agree on what “better” means, but that is a separate issue). The dissatisfaction I read, overtly and between the lines, is that the “profession” of economics, in its pursuit of the air of positive science, has lost its ethical code of conduct and has devolved to a technical career field. The statement, “The economics profession is a bad joke. More and more economists are saying less and less to fewer and fewer people. And they conceal their vacuity in abstruse language and mathematical formulae” (p. 364), strikes at the heart of the loss of a professional ethic in the field. What is the ultimate purpose of economics but ultimately to increase society’s understanding of the economy and thereby guide policymakers to make effective policies? This does not necessarily mean that a lay person should be able to pick up an economics journal whose audience is intended to be professional economists and understand it fully any more than a lay person should be able to pick up a copy of the New England Journal of Medicine and expect to fully understand it. Every profession must have an introspective element that works to extend the professional knowledge, and a means of communicating that new professional knowledge.
      Davis paraphrases respondents who say collectively “The bifurcation of the economics profession into researchers, teachers, and policy-makers has gotten worse and the number of individuals who are respected for contributions in all three areas gotten fewer and farther between” (364). I am not sure this is actually a problem – it sounds like a matter of comparative advantage for the individuals involved. We are after all the field that promotes specialization of labor. The real problem seems to be that the economics field has been overwhelmed by its pursuit of the professional body of knowledge, and in particular a very narrow portion of the body of knowledge as defined by the use of mathematical methodology, and has lost its commitment to the ethic of betterment that defines social science practitioners as professionals rather than as mere technicians.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 21 Apr 2010 by Jon Goldstein
    • Last comment 22 Apr 2010 by Shawn Reed
  12. A Life among the Econ, Particularly at UCLA

    • A wonderful remembrance! Although not a major in Economics, I had Alchian for Econ 101 (for non-econ majors?) in the mid 1950s, and a year or two later, a grad seminar with Allen (and someone else) on Internat’l Econ Development. Also, had Hildebrand for K. Marx econ. With the help of Prof Allen’s retrospective, I am now inclined to even greater appreciation than at the time—-partly for their inculcation of an economic perspective but mostly for their character.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 08 Sep 2010 by morrie goldman
    • Last comment 17 May 2011 by josil
  13. Individualism: True and False

    • Using the contrast between two philosophies that both have been referred to as individualism, Hayek outlines many of the usual justifications for a government and an economic system built around precepts of individual liberty. He tracks the intellectual history of the word “individualism”, claiming that what he calls false individualism leads inevitably to socialism and collectivism. He praises true individualism as worthy because it produces the most desirable results; false individualism has been wrongly associated with it and thus usurped its meaning.
      Hayek argues that the basic principle dividing the two philosophies is their differing conceptions of human nature. False individualism is more or less an overconfident humanism, while true individualism freely admits to human foibles and limitations. Thus, people who subscribe to false individualism have inflated expectations that men can rationally design the perfect society. Hayek argues for property rights, limited government, free exchange of goods and services, and the price mechanism built on the idea that men are fallible. The order in society develops unintentionally from the choices that free people make. Hayek’s defense of a classical liberal society on these grounds is utilitarian and compelling.
      It is somewhat surprising the particular battle lines Hayek drew. He equates true individualism with the Anglo-American culture and its associated thinkers, like Adam Smith and Hume, while pointing to French thinkers following in the tradition of Descartes as the primary source of false individualism. Hayek claims that German culture has yet another sense of the word individualism, which is the rejection of historical tradition as a source of authority over one’s behavior. It is an interesting division but a little difficult to believe that nationality follows the divisions between the intellectual traditions so simply.
      The most surprising point in the essay is Hayek’s effort to demonstrate that liberty and cultural traditions are consistently compatible. Cultural norms develop from a spontaneous order that reflects the process of the market. Hayek argues that respect for naturally evolving norms, rather than designed ones, encourages respect for the power of spontaneous order to produce the most desirable outcomes. His assertions seem to match the historical outcomes of the French Revolution, which ended with a military dictatorship, and the American Revolution, which resulted in a system of government with a strong presumption of liberty. The former tried to radically remake the society but the latter was simply an assertion of principles deeply ingrained culturally.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Tony Quain
    • Last comment 10 May 2013 by Matt
  14. "The Two Faces of Adam Smith"

    • Echo’s critique is insightful, and touches on Hanley’s recent appraisal of the article. I would like to suggest that while Vernon Smith’s experiments are very interesting, that his jumping off point misses a better way to reconcile Adam Smith’s two works.

      Although Adam Smith does attribute the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange to man as one of his most innate qualities, it is not the most obvious bridge between the two books. As a method of operation in the world, the propensity is important; as an explanation of the origin of our behavior, less so. The Adam Smith of the Theory of Moral Sentiments proposes a picture of man who receives input from the world around him about how he ought to behave. The man wants to be loved and to be loveable out of a concern for his self-interest. Both works address the content of self-interested behavior. The content which makes up self-interest in each book is explained differently, but they both amount to an exploration of self-interest in different frames. Paganelli (2008) even suggests that self-interest is judged with a more friendly result in the Theory of Moral Sentiments than in The Wealth of Nations.

      Self-interest, rather than the propensity to truck and barter, is perhaps the real tie between the two works. In the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith addresses humanity in the full context of human interactions, while in the Wealth of Nations he addresses that part of society most affected by the virtue of prudence. The method of approach is therefore different, but the starting point for each is not so far apart as is often assumed.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 25 Apr 2011 by Echo Keif
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Steve Kunath
  15. Economic Enlightenment Revisited: New Results Again Find Little Relationship Between Education and Economic Enlightenment but Vitiate Prior Evidence of the Left Being Worse

    • How did you intend the word “purported” to be interpreted, with respect to your article?

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 17 May 2011 by rihir akidan
    • Last comment 28 Apr 2012 by Moshe
  16. The Invisible Hand of Jupiter

    • I hope to add to, and hopefully not just echo, what Erik has already pointed out.

      It would seem that Smith’s use of the “invisible hand” allegory in both The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations is used to illustrate the edict of nature and society that direct economic activity. Whereas, in the History of Astronomy the “invisible hand” is used to explain the unexplainable— the events that are beyond the natural laws of the secular world. On the surface, the “invisible hand” reference takes on a slightly different connotation in the three Smith pieces mention above. In The Wealth of Nations it can be interpreted as the natural laws that manage markets and society; in The Theory of Moral Sentiments it can be seen as a divine set of universal rules directing a just and virtuous society; and, in the History of Astronomy it can take on the role of a divine authority overriding these rules and laws. I believe, as I deem Erik does, that the latter use of the “invisible hand” also shows up in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Consider the following few lines from The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “The rich…only consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life…had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants…”. Although “selfishness and rapacity” would seem to be characteristics that would not direct society in the way of justice or virtues, the industrious individual’s “natural” penchant to serve his own interest ultimately benefits society—the mean may not appear agreeable, but the end is. Is this “natural” penchant toward “selfishness and rapacity” not assumed to be put in place by a precocious, divine authority? It certainly can be interpreted that way. If we except that the “invisible hand” is the work of a higher authority, who has directed the butcher and the brewer to act in their own self interest, and who has provided society with nature ethics and virtues to govern themselves, and who makes it “lightening” and “thunder”, then the metaphor is consistent in all three of Smith’s works referenced above. Since this heavenly intention or intervention is not observable, Smith does not bother with a speculative explanation, simply calling it the “invisible hand”.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 15 Oct 2011 by Pavel Kuchař
    • Last comment 15 Nov 2012 by Francis Conlon
  17. Can ‘Religion’ Enrich ‘Economics’?

    • I do not share Eric’s confidence in perfectly and justly adminsitered providence.

      If we want things to be better on earth, I do not think we should wait for providence. We may have to wait for a very long time, and poor, starving and vulnerable populations worldwide need out compassion and support today, not whenever providence thinks it is time to do it.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 10 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  18. Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data

    • John, I do not believe you understand my point. Computed as discrete changes, which is what you do, the percentage difference of the premia (college versus high school) is not equal to to the difference of the percentage premia (college versus base minus high school versus base). You are implicitly using a false assumption; it is the same false assumption made by the Mexican government in the example I cited: that the difference of the percentage changes (+50 – 33.3) is the percentage change of the difference. It causes you to greatly overestimate the education premium.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Ronald Michener
    • Last comment 30 Oct 2015 by Ronald Michener
  19. Ideology Über Alles? Economics Bloggers on Uber, Lyft, and Other Transportation Network Companies

    • Hmmm. I entirely agree with the premise of this article: Uber is obviously an economic improvement and all efforts of the incumbent cartel to stymie it should be resisted. Admirably, all of the economists polled, regardless of political orientation, agreed. And indeed it would be nice if some of the more progressive of them spoke up about this. And any article taking Krugman’s ideological blinders to task is worth reading.

      But all that said, it seems that faulting left-leaning economists for remaining silent about Uber on their blogs just goes too far. Maybe they are afraid of ideological reprisal and so keep quiet. That would be shameful.

      But maybe they just feel that they have nothing particularly important to add to the economist consensus on Uber? That seems quite possible. For among the silent, are such as David Friedman, Greg Mankiw, Robin Hanson, and Steven Landsburg.

      Would anybody suspect any of these of being afraid of left-wing political reprisals for as anodyne a policy as supporting Uber? Any of their readers can see them voluntarily waving much bigger red flags at Progressive bulls on a frequent basis.

      In fact, their silence is some evidence that they just agree with the pro-Uber consensus. For any of these worthies had convinced himself that for some curious, clever reason Uber was the rare example where they oppose liberalized markets, they would have been sure to blog about it.

      So, if we can attribute the silence of “conservative” econ bloggers to blameless reasons, why not give those on the other side the same courtesy?

      That said, influential progressive Econ bloggers should be particularly encouraged to voice their support for Uber, even they have nothing novel or clever to add. A few such posts would do a great deal more for the common cause, than a hundred eloquent posts by econ bloggers on the other side of the spectrum preaching to the choir.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Michael Maloney
    • Last comment 24 Oct 2015 by Carl Edman
  20. To Tolerant England and a Pension from the King: Did Hume Subconsciously Aim to Subvert Rousseau's Legacy?

    • Dear colleagues:
      I’m a Spanish Hume’s scholar and I’m working at that precise moment in the first Spanish translation of CGA by Hume. First, many thanks for making public a copy of Hume’s MS at BNS.
      Only a brief comment: in my opinion there is an important change in transcription of the letter of June 23rd because where the original text of MS (page 30) says “c’est vous même” your version says precisely the opposite “I know one man, however, whom you can not deceive; I mean myself.” (your ed. MS, p. 298). The 1766 French original version (p. 47) and the English original version (p. 29) correctly transcribe this text, as the original MS. French and Italian present editions do the same.
      The failure I think is very relevant because Rousseau rhetorically depersonalizes Hume, turning him into a third person who attends the accusation process, in astonishment, being at the same time accused, judge and witness. All of this is lost with this transcription from Hume’s original MS.
      This mistaken quote is also repeated at the beginning of the paper by Klein (“To Tolerant England and a Pension from the King: Did Hume Subconsciously Aim to Subvert Rousseau’s Legacy?”).
      I thought it could be of interest for you.
      Yours sincerely,
      José L. Tasset, Professor of A Corunna University, Spain.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 28 Dec 2021 by Jose Tasset
    • Last comment 31 Aug 2022 by Daniel Klein

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