Reading Adam Smith

Adam Smith is a brilliant writer, who began as a professor of rhetoric.  The first part of his book is an exercise in ideological purity. In the later parts, he contradicts much of this extreme ideology.

In the Invisible Handcuffs, I show how Smith’s famous pin factory story was a mix of plagiarism and deception.

In contrast to his Theory Of Moral Sentiments, the Wealth Of Nations was not particularly popular until the French Revolution, when the defenders of the status quo recognized the ideological value of the work, or presumably assuming that no one would read much past the first few chapters.

After the Revolutions of 1848, the age of Classical Political Economy ended. Economists became much more careful in allowing realism to seep into their works. Consequently, their work became far more sterile.

1 comment so far

  1. Jim Farmelant on

    As I once wrote in a different forum concerning Smith:

    Another issue you might wish to concern you with is Smith’s views concerning the division of labor. Now every schoolchild knows that Smith argued that the development of the division of labor was essential to continued economic growth. Smith begins his case for that thesis right away in the the first chapter of Book I (of The Wealth of Nations). What lots of people don’t recognize is that Smith also outlined a critique of the effects that an intensified division of labor has on workers; a critique that in some respects anticipated the one Marx would make later on. This kernel of a critique was presented by Smith in Book V. There Smith wrote:

    “In the progress of the division of
    labour, the employment of the far
    greater part of those who live by
    labour, that is, the great body of
    the people, comes to be confined to
    a few very simple operations, frequently
    to one or two. But the understandings
    of the greater part of men are necessarily
    formed by their ordinary employments.

    The man whose whole life is spent in
    performing a few simple operations, of
    which the effects too are, perhaps,
    always the same, or very nearly the same,
    has no occasion to exert his understanding,
    or to exercise his invention in finding out
    expedients for removing difficulties
    which never occur. He naturally loses,
    therefore, the habit of such exertion,
    and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant
    as it is possible for a human creature to
    become… His dexterity at his own
    particular trade seems to be acquired at
    the expense of his intellectual, social,
    and martial virtues. But in every improved
    and civilised society this is the state
    into which the labouring poor, that is,
    the great body of the people, must necessarily
    fall, unless government takes some pains to
    prevent it.”

    Smith proposed to relieve these deleterious effects of the division of labor by having the state provide education to the workers. Karl Marx while appreciative of Smith’s analysis of the deleterious effects of the division of labor referred scornfully to Smith’s modest proposals for educating the workers as consisting only of the administration of “homoeopathic doses.” Nevertheless, Smith did provide a sophisticated and relatively nuanced treatment of the division of labor in both its positive and negative aspects that remains a model of sophisticated social analysis.

    Jim Farmelant


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