The Harsh Realism of Adam Smith

From Branko Milanovic and the Globalist:

“Under the influence of Amartya Sen, we have been “nudged” towards a reassessment of the relative merits of “The theory of moral sentiments “ (TMS) and “The Wealth of Nations” (WN). Sen has done a lot to bring Smith’s early work out of relative obscurity where it was consigned by two centuries of success of The Wealth of Nations.

What remains true is that many people around the world continue to have a remarkably distorted view of The Wealth of Nations. Not much beyond the (in)famous “invisible hand of the market.”

Bad government

In reality, there are no “good guys” in The Wealth in Nations. Of course, the government comes in for special criticism.

Smith argues against its rapacity in putting up high tariffs, its foolishness in following mercantilist policies, its pettiness in constraining the system of “natural liberty,” its attempts to decide where people should live (the law of settlement, a hukou-like system was then in existence in Britain).


Bad businessmen

But businessmen are no better. As soon as they are given half a chance, perhaps just after having gotten rid of some particularly nefarious government regulation, they are back to plotting how to “restrain” the market, to pay suppliers less, destroy competitors, cheat workers (see today’s IT companies, Walmart, Amazon).

In the famous quote, “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices” (Book 1, Ch. 8).

In their mad ambition, they try to rule the world (see Davos): “…the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind” (Book 4, Ch. 3, p. 621).”


Read the full article here.

Posted by at 10:28 AM

Labels: Macro Demystified


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