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  1. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

    • Nate Silver (pollster and renowned baseball statistician) takes issue with the methodology of this survey, do the authors have a response?

      http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/06/are-you-smarter-than-george-mason.html

    • 6 comments
    • First comment 10 Jun 2010 by N. Joseph Potts
    • Last comment 16 Nov 2015 by wargames83
  2. 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.

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

    • Oh, please, please, please give us a link to where Paul Krugman said the 2009 stimulus was going to lead to “strong growth”.

      (And if you are unable to, does that mean you are, as Krugman contends, making it up?

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

    • This article suffers from several flaws. First, the authors fail to make a compelling case for religion as a mechanism to avoid “silent risks.” The only case noted is debt, and a strict prohibition on debt might well prevent debt-related catastrophic failures, but given the centrality of credit and debt to the world economic system, this seems like a disproportionate “cure.” Furthermore, the authors give us no mechanism, other than perhaps the most stubborn conservatism, how religion per se actually would prevent silent risk.

      The most glaring problem, though, is that the authors fail to offer a good definition of religion. They point out that religion shares features of every social institution, i.e. intergenerational propagation of norms, but fail to adequately distinguish religious from secular institutions beyond mentioning the label “God.” But what do they actually mean by “God”? Their preamble is unhelpful: what precisely do they mean by “true religion” and “genuine spirituality”? The authors are silent.

      Finally, the authors insistence on the irrelevance of the epistemic basis of religion, indeed even of its truth, seems deeply problematic. Should we not try to understand how and why systems of ideas (i.e. ideologies) work and don’t work? Should we not make our best effort, albeit imperfectly, to base our worldview on truth? Is the understanding that some ideologies rest on obviously untrue beliefs about the world not at least raising an important problem? The authors’ handwaving away of epistemic analysis seems also in contrast to Taleb’s other work, which offers a sharp and perspicacious critique of the epistemic problems in science, and especially economics and political economy.

      I have a more thorough analysis on my blog: Religion as risk management

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

    • This is a great article as the others have said. This study needs far greater exposure to provide greater diversity in economic thinking. There is far more to economics than Keynesianism and the mechanics. Thank you.

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

    • My two lines about Professor Luft’s book are perfectly accurate and not disputed by him. He does call for compulsory insurance to cover most medical costs. He thinks that this does not justify classifying his book as “left”, because he limits the compulsory coverage to certain conditions and wishes to rely on market mechanisms for other things. I stand by my classification, but this is a difference of opinion, not a failure on my part to get my facts straight.

    • 4 comments
    • First comment 24 Jan 2011 by Hal Luft
    • Last comment 16 Feb 2011 by Milo Schield
  7. 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.

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

    • Say, you need 100% of underlying good for Islamic finance. What about 90%? 80%? How low do reserves go before it breaks Shari’ah law? Does the first dollar lent out of monetary deposits rather than lent on the back of real world collateral render the financial institution as counter to Shari’ah?

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

    • Sean T. Stevens, in preparing a blog post for Heterodox Academy about the Langbert, Quain, and Klein article in EJW, scrutinized the article and caught a problem, and then kindly sent us a query about it.

      Sean noticed that in footnote 5 (p. 424) we list University of Florida and University of Miami as among those universities that, though ranked high enough by U.S. News to be included in our investigation, were not included because they sit in states not covered by Aristotle (the database used for the study).

      But Sean noticed that in footnote 4 (p. 423), listing the states not included in Aristotle, Florida is not listed. In fact, Florida is covered by Aristotle. In fact, those two Florida universities should have been included in our investigation.

      To rectify the problem, we need to investigate the two universities that have been mistakenly left out of our analysis, which covered 40 universities. Although our subscription to Aristotle had expired, Aristotle has generously restored to us temporary access, to rectify the problem. We are proceeding now and will report back on the findings; look for a notice here at EJW News.

      We are grateful to Sean for catching our error and bringing it to our attention!

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

    • Preference falsification is equivalent to the term “pluralistic ignorance” used in social psychology. There have been a number of studies that have isolated this phenomenon (e.g., public versus private views of drinking habits on college campuses in Prentice and Miller 1993) and suggestions regarding how to alleviate it. For example, Halbesleben et al. (2005) conducted a study on business school students. Previously, it was observed that private views on ethical conduct in business diverged significantly from public views. In general, everyone wanted to be more ethical, but believed everyone else would behave unethically. The researchers administered ethics surveys several times during a semester to students in two classes. The surveys required students to indicate what they would do given a particular situation and what they thought others would do in that situation. In one of the classes, the lecturers spent one session teaching pluralistic ignorance, although not linking this lesson to the surveys or business ethics in general. The researchers found that, in business settings, the class receiving the pluralistic ignorance lesson reduced pluralistic ignorance on the ethics surveys and responded more ethically to surveys.

      This study provides reason for optimism for the economics profession. Merely educating students about the phenomenon of pluralistic ignorance (or preference falsification) reduces the phenomenon somewhat. The researchers did not even link the concept of pluralistic ignorance with the ethics surveys. Surely, educating economists on pluralistic ignorance and presenting results of studies similar to Davis’s should greatly reduce pluralistic ignorance in the economics profession. Moreover, one would suspect that the Internet, a medium that strongly promotes the exchange of ideas and internal viewpoints, would also alleviate the “ignorance” of the majority viewpoint. Davis describes that pluralistic ignorance can perpetuate social undesirable practices, but then “can suddenly, and dramatically change” those practices. Perhaps, the economics profession will soon undergo such a change.

      References
      Halbesleben, R. B., A. R. Wheeler, and M. R. Buckley (2005). “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? Pluralistic Ignorance and Business Ethics Education.” Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 56, No. 4, pgs. 385-398.
      Prentice, D. A. and D. T. Miller (1993). “Pluralistic Ignorance and Alcohol Use on Campus: Some Consequences of Misperceiving the Social Norm.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 64, No. 2, pgs. 243–256.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 21 Apr 2010 by Jon Goldstein
    • Last comment 22 Apr 2010 by Shawn Reed
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. "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
  14. Economic Enlightenment Revisited: New Results Again Find Little Relationship Between Education and Economic Enlightenment but Vitiate Prior Evidence of the Left Being Worse

    • People believing firmly in free market and voluntary exchange efficiency (just missed some fluctuations in Q.16 and negative externalities in Q17) are wrong and “Unenlightened”.
      People believing after USSR economy TOTAL failure and China transition to market economy that voluntary transactions are inefficient and only Gosplan could succeed to organize it are right and enlightened? Are you sure Q16-17 really helpful?
      BTW, conservatives actually able to count negative externalities.
      Q14: say Farmer A hired 5 immigrants from the country w/o tradition to respect property and human life, dignity etc. Let Farmer A saved for a Seazon $100K his costs (taxation, salary) and shared part of $100K among his product consumers. So, public wealth increased $100K. OK, now, close to the end of the Seazon (game almost over, last move of the gamer could be very unpleasant) this immigrant workers grabbed and killed farmer B and raped farmers’ C daughter and escaped to Mexico.
      Public losses counted say $5 million at least. So, conservatives actually count negative externalities, some libertarians so stubbornly ignore (Caplan vs. Friedman):
      http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2008/06/milton_friedman_10.html

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

    • In The Invisible Hand of Jupiter (1971), Alexander L. Macfie provides an insight on Adam Smiths conception of the relationship between divine guidance, the system of nature and human behavior. The relationship that Smith conceptualizes as the invisible hand appear thrice in his writing. Macfie tries to explain what lead Smith to the reversal of the meaning while noting that, in fact, there is no inconsistency in Smith. The invisible hand of Jupiter is a capricious, energizing force that metaphorically fits the irregularities people have been observing throughout time. The invisible hand of Christian Deity is the order preserving social force that animates orderly development of societies through social individuals.
      While there is no inconsisteny, Macfie is still not satisfied by Smith’s effort to integrate the theological, jurisprudential, ethical and economic arguments. The invisible hand of Jupiter is the innovative force breaking loose of the status quo, whereas the invisible hand of Christian Deity is the conservative force that gravitates towards natural order disturbed by self interested individuals. The invisible hand of Christian Deity appears both in the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and in the Wealth of Nations (1776). Whereas in the Wealth of Nations Smith is concerned with the economic mechanism of the order preserving force that appears in the obvious and simple system of natural liberty which, if perfect, makes itself out in the correspondence of natural and market prices, in the Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith considers the mechanism of distribution of wealth. Smith’s logic is shaky, however, for in the Theory of Moral Sentiments the economic disparity is met by an ethical answer: “In the essentials all the different ranks should be nearly on a level.” While Macfie is aware that Smith distinguishes between benevolence – distributive and esteem justice – and justice – that is commutative justice – and opposes forcing out the levelling of the distribution of essentials, it is not clear whether and how the integration of theological, ethical and economic aspects of Smith’s doctrine bind together and how and whether the invisible hand leads the “rich only [to] select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable […] to make nearly the same distribution […] which would have been made had the earth been divided among equal portions among all its inhabitants (TMS 1759, p. 184).” For Macfie the invisible-hand passage in the Theory of Moral Sentiments remains only an effort, however excellent, to bind the theological ethical and economic arguments into one comprehensive system of thought.

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

    • Religion may not provide us with analytical tools designed for “sciences”, but it may tell us a lot about the ends to which economic analysis are applied.

      For example, some religious perspectives are easily applied to say that the goal is to maximize bounty, whereas others could say it is to care for the earth, or to provide for the poor and vulnerable. In these senses, I think it is worth asking what direction economic analysis may take from the wise words passed down through religious communities over the ages.

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

    • In his 2002 book, Calculated Risks, Gerd Gigerenzer addresses the muddy headed thinking that results from innumeracy and illustrates with telling anecdotes. This (p. 210) is one of my favorites:

      In the late 1970s, the Mexican government faced the problem of how to increase the capacity of the Viaducto, a four-lane motorway. Rather than building a new highway or extending the existing one, the government implemented a clever, inexpensive solution: It had the lines on the four-lane highway repainted to make it six-lanes wide. Increasing the number of lanes from four to six meant a 50 percent increase in capacity. Unfortunately, the much narrower lanes also resulted in an increase in traffic fatalities, which, after a year, forced the government to turn the highway back into a four-lane road. Reducing the number of lanes from six to four mean a 33 percent decrease in capacity. In an effort at touting its progress in improving the country’s infrastructure, the government subtracted the decrease from the increase and reported that its actions had increased the capacity of the road by 17 percent.

      As amusing as it is to chuckle over the transparent flimflammery of the Mexican government, it is considerably more distressing to see one’s fellow economists taken in by the same fallacy. This is precisely what is happening in John Humphreys’ recent publication in Econ Journal Watch, “Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data.” Suppose for the sake of illustration that male college graduates earn $4000 a year in Cambodia, high school graduates earn $2000 a year, and someone entirely uneducated earns $1000 a year. These numbers, it should be clear, are picked for ease of exposition, not for accuracy. Using the usual formula for percentage changes, one would say that university graduates earn 100% more than high school graduates ((400-200)/200 = 1). It would be fallacious to say that college graduates earn 300% ((400-100)/100 =3) more than the uneducated, and high school graduates earn 100% more than the uneducated ((200-100)/100) = 1), so that college graduates earn 200% (300% – 100%) more than high school graduates, yet this is precisely what Mr. Humphrey’s technique does. He computes a percentage premium of college graduates over the base category, and then subtracts a percentage premium of high school graduates over the same base category.
      References:

      Gigerenzer, Gerd. (2002). Calculated Risks. New York: Simon & Schuster.

      Humphreys, John (2015). “Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data,” Econ Journal Watch, 12 (3), pp. 339-45.

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Ronald Michener
    • Last comment 30 Oct 2015 by Ronald Michener
  18. 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

    • 3 comments
    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Michael Maloney
    • Last comment 24 Oct 2015 by Carl Edman
  19. 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?

    • 2 comments
    • First comment 01 Nov 2011 by Alex Littlefield
    • Last comment 11 Feb 2013 by Alex Littlefield
  20. Adam Smith and Conservative Economics

    • I’m struck by a sense of deja vu in the treatment of Adam Smith by political philosophers after his death – indeed, it is much the same treatment a consistent modern friend of liberty might expect from orthodox conservatism and progressivism. The right wing of US politics invokes Smith and other classical liberal economists to defend private property and attack the idea of government intervention in the economy on behalf of the poor, but the cannier among them (such as Burke, among the early 18th-century crop of conservatives) know that true friends of individual liberty are no true friends of their favorite projects – wars and mass expenditures in the name of national greatness and tradition.

      As Rothschild’s article documents, Smith considered government interference in markets ‘a combination of the rich to oppress the poor,’ far from Burke’s conception of it as the agent of the deity on Earth. Of course, when Smith refers to ‘the rich,’ he usually seems to have in mind not capitalists involved in production in a free market but aristocrats wealthy from hereditary privilege and merchants wealthy from government-granted privilege. Smith takes the elites to task, though, not for simply having accumulated large amounts of wealth, or benefiting from a naturally unjust system of property, but for their lack of classical virtues. Smith saw the profligate, frivolous, aristocratic elite that used their influence to tip regulation in their favor as not measuring up to the humble masses engaged in honest toil in many virtues (his primary system of virtues in TMS emphasized prudence, temperance, courage, justice, and love). While falling short in most virtues is blameworthy yet not worthy of punishment, violating commutative justice was definitely considered by Smith as worthy of punishment, and he regrets that any aristocrat should be so powerful and wealthy as to be above the law in TMS.

      Smith should not be read as advocating liberty as simply an instrument to prosperity, to be easily abandoned in such cases in which we believe we can achieve greater prosperity with a clever regulation. Not only is liberty an intrinsic good, for those who have it and for their society, but it positively encourages virtue in general as much as it promotes prosperity. This is why we would never see the shade of Smith siding with the French revolutionaries or the radical left, who want to abrogate liberty and commutative justice in pursuit of a new system of property and a society subordinated to the will of the state. Smith may have had great sympathy for the poor, but it didn’t extend to his advocating the expropriation of the wealthy. Indeed, this might explain why Smith became somehow painted as an arch-conservative apologist for the wealthy despite what he actually wrote: while in Smith’s philosophy, some wars are justified, many customary, traditional and religious rules are laudable, and it makes sense to feel some measure of pride in the greatness and good fortunes of one’s country, it is always contrary to all morality and propriety to rob one’s neighbor, no matter his wealth and no matter your need. Smith can rail against utopian schemers with righteous indignation but would never do the same against God, king and country. Sometimes the distinction between a classical liberal and a conservative appears very fine, and even adherents of either philosophy may confuse or conflate the two, hence the conservative advantage in the race to claim Smith.

      It’s sobering to think that the controversy over Smith’s allegiances has been waged without interruption for over two hundred years and counting, now, and in many respects, the arguments have not much changed. Considering the obfuscation and self-censorship Smith had to practice in his writings and the incentives for political groups to claim him as one of their own, I would not be surprised if we all fought over Smith for another two centuries.

    • 2 comments
    • First comment 07 Oct 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 19 Oct 2010 by Brian Bedient

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