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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.

    • First comment 11 Jun 2018 by Daniel Klein
    • Last comment 08 Aug 2019 by Daniel Klein
  2. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

    • Gee, I wonder why this survey didn’t ask question about things like monopsony, the money multiplier effect of government spending, the free ride problem with public goods, natural monopolies, positive and negative externalities, etc. It is almost like the questions were cherry picked to get conservatives to do better than liberals! Was this funded by some right wing think tank?

    • First comment 10 Jun 2010 by N. Joseph Potts
    • Last comment 16 Nov 2015 by wargames83
  3. Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists

    • In the opinion of Deirdre McCloskey Adam Smith was the last virtue ethicist. McCloskey bases this claim on the fact that in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith identifies five distinct virtues. Identifying a limited number of distinct virtues places Smith in contrast to some of the leading figures in enlightenment virtue projects, e.g. Kant and Bentham. In fact McCloskey believes that Smith’s conception and enumeration of the virtues is strikingly similar to that found in the work of Thomas Aquinas who identified seven.

      McCloskey rightly identifies that something is missing in Smith’s selection of the five virtues. Smith did not include two of the transcendent virtues, faith and hope, frequently found in medieval ethical systems. While McCloskey spends time speculating as to why Smith omitted faith and hope, it is important to put these virtues in context. McCloskey uses Aquinas as her source for the count of the virtues and it is important to look there to see if there is any particular order in which the virtues were ordered. In the Summa Theologica Aquinas says “faith is first among the virtues” (II-II q. 4 a. 7 s. c.). Further, he says, other virtues can only precede faith accidentally and those other virtues precede faith in the sense that they remove obstacles to faith.

      For Aquinas then there is a structure of the virtues that McCloskey seems to have completely missed. McCloskey attempts to explain Smith’s exclusion of the virtue of faith as an enlightenment era attitude against religion seems lacking. If McCloskey is trying to show Smith’s more ancient roots, she should also investigate the question of final causality that would have played an important part of any account of virtues for ethical writers like Aquinas. For those authors picking up from where Aristotle left off, there would have been some level of agreement concerning the final end of human action, or at least agreement that there is a final end for man that is part of his very nature. Smith, however, seems to have been influenced by his friend David Hume about the idea of causality—for Hume cause and effect is determined by proximity in time of the occurrence of events and there is as a result no final cause. If Smith accepted this then it is an easier explanation for rejecting faith then enlightenment religious sentiment as faith, for Aquinas, focused on the final end of man. That is, McCloskey skips out on the deep questions arising out of the virtue of faith and the structure it plays in the totality of the virtues as interpreted by Smith. She does this to the detriment of an otherwise interesting article.

    • 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.

    • 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:

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

    • 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.

    • 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%.

    • 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

    • In an 1819 lecture, Constant calls on his listeners to realize that there is a fundamental difference between what people of antiquity considered liberty and what the concept means for the modern person. For the former, liberty consists of taking full advantage of collective political rights; liberty to the latter is the conducting of his private affairs without interference. He argues that the liberty of the moderns must be carefully guarded and not forgotten for the sake of political rights. In the course of his argument, Constant also defends the French Revolution as beginning with the right perspective on liberty but later confusing the liberty of ancients with that of moderns, which contributed to the disastrous results. Surprisingly, he praises Rousseau as a lover of liberty who was led into error by the confusion over ancient liberty as opposed to modern liberty.
      Constant offers a point-by-point comparison of the two concepts of liberty that is very illuminating. His main concern is that people would unwisely sacrifice modern liberty as the ancients often did, when in a modern nation, political rights are much less significant and valuable than in a small city-state. His contention that political rights used to be the more valuable of the two in ancient times because people were limited in their economic activity is one of his most striking points. It most clearly highlights the rationale behind people trying to acquire political power at the cost of personal and economic freedoms but also leads to a slightly conflicting message. Constant asserts that private activity is more important and valuable than public activity in modern society yet urges people not to ignore the political process. He anticipates the concept of the rationally ignorant voter by noting that many people will prefer to attend to matters that benefit them most and argues for citizens to be informed and watchful instead.
      It is worth noting that Constant often seems to be sanctioning the liberty of the ancients, where the society had the moral authority to control people’s private behavior, as morally acceptable for that time and the particular conditions. It weakens his argument, since his own concept of modern liberty could become dated in the same way unless it were justified by something other than the current political and economic systems being too large and complex for it to be otherwise.

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

    • Do any central banks apply Shari’ah principles to their market operations?

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

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

    • Much of this introductory chapter to Hayek’s 1948 work deserves ample praise: that rationalist epistemology leads to an ever-encroaching desire to design state-imposed solutions; that individualism recognizes that man in a free state will achieve more than is possible laboring under centralized intelligent design; that true individualism is only selfish in the sense that the individual self directs his own affairs, whatever his egoist or altruist intentions; and that equality is a two-sided coin such that pursuing equality of treatment necessitates inequality of results, and vice versa.

      Unlike some other individualist theorists, his attack on state authority and especially its roots in rationalism is made largely on practical terms. He doesn’t say that statism encroaches on man’s “rights” or on moral principles. Rather, he makes the simple observation that individuals should direct their own affairs because they each are aware of the particulars and the intended objective of those affairs. Society at large and bureaucrats as its representatives simply can not know the ends that men seek in their several endeavors and can not devise all the practical means to achieve them.

      Certainly arguing for a liberal social order from a rights-centered perspective (like that of Locke, Rand, or Nozick) has its own pitfalls. But what if the problem is not with Hayek’s airtight reasoning of matching the actor with his wants, but with his presumption that the correct object of analysis is the individual and not society? If the reader believes that social goals are more aspiring than individual goals, Hayek’s arguments could be used against him: just as it is more practical for individuals to know and direct the pursuits of the individual, it is likewise more practical for society to know and direct the pursuits of society. It is not clear that Hayek has established methodological individualism before arguing for political individualism.

      This should not be a difficult proposition. As societies have become less autocratic and more responsive to democratic impulse, they have also become more tailored towards individualistic ends. Post-war rationalist planners (conservative and liberal) emphasize large welfare states to achieve largely individual goals instead of leviathan state actors to achieve collectivist goals. In other words, history is on the side of the methodological individualist. Yet Hayek did not know this in 1948, and should stress that point more.

      What logically follows from this is that rationalist planners would reduce the ends (and the means) of human pursuits to a least common denominator. As Hayek puts it, “The concentration of all decisions in the hands of authority itself produces a state of affairs in which what structure society still possesses is imposed upon it by government and in which individuals have become interchangeable units with no other definite or durable relations to one another than those determined by the all-comprehensive organization.” (p.27) What is lost is individuality and the localized functions of civil society. Even for those who have communitarian or anti-individualist preconceptions, this is a tragic development.

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

    • The Adam Smith Problem has beset philosophers and economists since the time of the man who is its source. What is the best way to integrate the insights of the Wealth of Nations with the ethical theory of the Theory of Moral Sentiments? While consensus has not yet been reached authors still try to resolve the tension. Vernon Smith, the father of experimental economics, attempted to resolve the problem by making an appeal to Adam Smith’s description of the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange.

      The propensity that Vernon Smith points to is certainly a component of Adam’s system, but in attempting to resolve the Adam Smith Problem by simply highlighting this propensity seems to ask forces other questions into focus. Assuming that Adam Smith had a singular vision of human nature in some sense, where does the individual’s propensity to exchange emerge? According to David Hume reason is a slave to the passions, which Adam Smith would have been familiar with as it affected the development of his own moral theory. Here a problem arises, if the propensity to exchange is simply the result of an innate principle of action, as Vernon Smith implies, then one needs to determine if this action falls under ethical scrutiny or not. If Adam Smith does not consider natural and uncontrolled actions of the individual, e.g. sneezing, twitching, worthy of ethical consideration as they fall outside of the realm of the individual’s control and thereby are incapable of being done in sympathy with the Impartial Spectator, then how does one square a natural principle with ethical analysis? Perhaps if Vernon Smith had described the propensity to exchange as some type of irreducible good then we could see that it could then serve as a reason for action that would first be described by and ethical system, i.e. it would be fitting to discuss in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and then followed by sound advice on instantiating the good in ones affairs, i.e. the Wealth of Nations would give advice on making it a reality. The point of all this is to say that while Vernon Smith seems to be making a contribution to solving the Adam Smith Question, we are left with further questions that need to be answered.

    • 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?

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

    • The main point of Macfie’s article, The Invisible Hand of Jupiter (1971), is to analyze, and attempt to reconcile, Smith’s various uses of the famous, yet mysterious, “invisible hand” metaphor throughout his work.

      The original use of the invisible hand is in Smith’s History of Astronomy, an early essay written by Smith, which was published posthumously. In History of Astronomy, the invisible hand belongs to the Roman god Jupiter, and is used by polytheistic “savages” to explain seemingly irregular natural phenomena that interrupt the status quo (e.g., lightning, thunder). In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) and Wealth of Nations (WN), the invisible hand, assumed by Macfie, among others, to belong to the Christian Deity, is a mechanism of coordination that guides people’s self-love in order to achieve universal benevolence.

      While the uses of the invisible hand seem contradictory, Macfie contends they are not. He suggests that the use of the invisible hand in History of Astronomy was merely where Smith first coined the phrase, and has no significant bearing on its later use in TMS and WN. Macfie interprets the invisible hand metaphor in TMS and WN to be Smith’s attempt to express “his own view as to the relation between divine guidance, the system of nature, and human behavior”, accordingly becoming the energizer of his entire system of thought (pp.598-99).

      While Macfie’s interpretation may be plausible, there is another way to interpret Smith’s use of his famous metaphor. I believe that Smith used the invisible hand metaphor when talking about things beyond human understanding. In History of Astronomy, the savage ascribes lighting, a natural occurrence that he cannot understand, to the mood swings, and invisible hand of Jupiter. In TMS/WN, Smith employs the same invisible hand metaphor when he talks about markets; in doing so, he suggests that people cannot understand why order emerges spontaneously when people pursue their own ends in free markets, but can merely observe that it does. Perhaps this emergent order in markets can be attributed to a benevolent Deity, but, if the use of the metaphor is consistent with its use in History of Astronomy, Smith argues that the cause of this order is outside the realm of human understanding. With this interpretation of the invisible hand, Smith’s seemingly contradictory uses of the metaphor can indeed be reconciled.

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

    • Hi, T. My wife’s family moved away from Winnipeg, so I haven’t been back for quite a few years now. I enjoyed your article, which makes an interesting pairing with mine for comparison of where we agree and disagree. You make me feel I should read some of Whately’s work.

      I like the idea that the Invisible Hand is evidence of God’s Providence, similar to the wonders of the human body. It is a natural process, to be sure—- but isn’t it wonderful that we live in a world where the Invisible Hand works? It’s a bit like the physicists’ Fine-Tuned Universe. Your article made me realize that William Paley, of Watchmaker fame, wrote a book about “social science” as well as one about natural science. His Evidences of Christianity ( is about arguments from history and sociology, e.g. why were the early Christians so willing to suffer persecution if the Gospels were falsehoods, and why did Christianity spread so much in the world? Economics can try to address those, just as evolution tries to address the Watchmaker, and, indeed, I’d count Rodney Stark as an honorary economist.
    • 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.

    • 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

    • I am and always have been surprised by the “cartel” view of taxis. No one calls the Maine lobster industry a cartel. Yet surely and appropriately it is. The lobster fishery is a common access resource. So, too, are the streets of a city. Part of the income enjoyed by lobster fishermen is a scarcity rent. So, too, is the price of a taxi and a taxi-cab medallion. Cities for many, obvious political-economy reasons are awful at managing common access to the streets. Nonetheless, the social value of Uber is not to lower the price of a taxi, which should be even higher in some cases, but to offer the consumer a more technologically efficient way of delivering the scare good

    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Michael Maloney
    • Last comment 24 Oct 2015 by Carl Edman
  20. The Social Science Citation Index: A Black Box—with an Ideological Bias?

    • Hoover Institution publication Policy Review just printed its last issue this month (2/2013). That’s one less conservative SSCI journal cited in the Klein and Chiang article. Will any of the remaining conservative academic journals (such as ANAMNESIS, Academic Questions, First Things or Modern Age) ever obtain SSCI?

    • First comment 01 Nov 2011 by Alex Littlefield
    • Last comment 11 Feb 2013 by Alex Littlefield

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