Liberals, you must reclaim Adam Smith
[Via Contrary Brin]
I’ve said it before and must (alas) repeat it ad nauseam
. Many of our modern struggles — in the U.S. and across advanced societies — could be altered if both sides actually (for the first time) read Adam Smith
. The left would learn that he was not the viciously cruel exploiter of the masses that dopey campus ranters portray him, but rather, the first modern thinker to propose a generally flat and fair (if highly competitive) society, one moderated with many kindnesses that he defended in The Theory of Moral Sentiments
. Though yes, he maintained that society could better afford
kindness if it maintained a vibrantly creative -competitive marketplace for great new products and services. A forecast of stunning accuracy.
Conservatives would realize that Smith praised competition as the greatest creative force… but that competition’s top enemy is not always a government civil servant! There is another, older enemy of enterprise and freedom, that crushed opportunity and competition in 99% of societies across 6000 years. The principal enemy of freedom and markets denounced by Smith was monopolistic or conspiratorial oligarchy, of exactly the kind that the American Founders rebelled-against.
Here’s a summary I found recently:“Ironically, Smith’s epic work The Wealth of Nations, which was first published in 1776, presents a radical condemnation of business monopolies sustained and protected by the state, in service of a lordly owner-caste. Adam Smith’s ideal was a market comprised of small buyers and sellers. He showed how the workings of such a market would tend toward a price that provides a fair return to land, labor, and capital, produce a satisfactory outcome for both buyers and sellers, and result in an optimal outcome for society in terms of the allocation of its resources.
“He made clear, however, that this outcome can result only when no buyer or seller is sufficiently large to influence the market price—a point many who invoke his name prefer not to mention. Such a market implicitly assumes a significant degree of equality in the distribution of economic power—another widely neglected point.”
(excerpted from David C. Korten’s book, When Corporations Rule the World
Read Adam Smith and we all win. BUt it has to be the real Adam Smith not cardboard cutout.
Everyone should read Brin’s peice and then go actually check out Adam Smith and his work. Wealth of Nations has some surprisingly strong progressive aspects of it. In fact, the book Smith thought was really important was his first one – the Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Yes, Smith thought that capital markets would only work if moral men used them. And he did not think that government servants were the problem. It was authoritarians who were the greatest threat to the people.
Like the American flag, only one side embraces capitalism but it is not the capitalism of Adam Smith or even the other demigod – Hayek. It is a warped version because the other side simply gave it away.
Capitalism is a tool, like any other. It has its uses in its realm, just as other tools have uses in theirs. Using the right economic tool for the job is critical.
Take this from Smith:
“When the regulation, therefore, is in support of the workman, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters.”
Sounds like a socialist, right? The problem with capitalism is that it has mainly been hijacked by the masters, the elite oligarchs who many make money through financial transactions. Capitalism today is a degraded form of what Smith wrote about.
It is about the Wealth of Oligarchs more than nations and the people living in them. In fact, the oligarchs spend a sizable fraction of their wealth (which should belong to the nation as Smith described) to keep us divided and powerless.
Perhaps if the left actually embraced Smith more – the real Adam Smith and not the caricature we see – we could make some great strides. If we all actually embrace the capitalism of Adam Smith, we might just beat the authoritarian oligarchy.