Speaking of Smith
On First Looking into The Wealth Of Nations
But Wealth of Nations? I’d heard of it, of course. It was that big famous book that began modern economics in the 18th century. Since, at the time, I was a graduate student specializing in poetry from earlier periods, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to tell me much that I would find useful.
Worse than that, I knew what this book would be like. It would be interested only in governments and companies and their interactions with each other. There would be tedious discussions of trade policy and manufacturing. It would have impenetrable columns of numbers. It would be, in a word, boring.
I was, in a word, wrong.
“One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head…it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper.”
"But the Appendix on the price of herring is still pretty boring."
Amen to that! And, mercifully, Don Boudreaux has us skip that section in the class on WN he teaches at GMU :-)
I have to say, my experience with Smith was similar. I came to him much later, my first encounter being in late undergrad when I had already been studying economics for several years. But the way he told stories, not just charts and theories of relentlessly maximizing automatons, spoke to me. As someone who was never good at math, I loved the intuition he built.
Fast forward a decade, and on a whim, I took Dan Klein's graduate class on Theory of Moral Sentiments. Suddenly, everything clicked into place. TMS was a key to unlocking the full potential of Wealth of Nations and to better understand economics in general. There was no need to assume away concerns of justice or the other virtues. Smith embraced them, and WN has a very jurisprudence and virtuous foundation to it. Concepts such as utility curves and demand curves became more dynamic (but inherently less precise). Economics became about people. Smith never forgot that. But somewhere along the lines, the profession did.
I think both a careful reading of TMS and WN go a long way to making one a better economist and a better social citizen.
I have a sneaking suspicion that economists like TMS best, and non economists like WON. "Dissimilar geniuses" and all.
Smith and Superheroes
What Makes Man Sociable?
What makes people naturally sociable? How do we come to together as a community or society?
With your host, Amy Willis
There's No Such Thing as Deregulation
“Deregulation” frequently conjures up the image of rich CEOs freed to do as they please without restraint or punishment like some sort of corporate Wild West. The regulation/deregulation dichotomy creates the impression that regulated markets are stable and orderly whereas deregulated markets are chaotic and wild – the “anarchy of production” as Karl Marx might have described it.
Smith's Scientific Milestones
Adam Smith and the Prseumption of Liberty
Adam Smith was no anarchist. Smith did have a strong presumption of liberty, but this presumption was not absolute. Under certain conditions, a jural superior (such as a sovereign or magistrate) could violate this presumption of liberty and impose a policy that would break the rules of justice.
Drama versus Data- Adam Smith on Description
Is love ridiculous???
with Professor Spyridon Tegos
Ridicule does not seem to be an indifferent topic for Adam Smith. In this respect, he dedicates two of his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, (numbers 9 and 10) in which we read that while we admire the grand and beautiful and show contempt to what is mean and little...
Art's Important Moral Work
Adam Smith had a life-long interest in the arts. He was surely a man of taste. However, his biographer, Dugald Stewart, suggests Smith’s interest in the arts and fashion was primarily “on account of their connexion with the general principles of the human mind” (Essays on Philosophical Subjects, 173). Smith, it seems, was ever the theorist.
Beauty and Language in Adam Smith
The 18th century is generally cited as the birthplace of modern aesthetic thought. Whatever the veracity of this claim, there is little doubt that aesthetic topics were central to the intellectual projects of Enlightenment in a way that was unprecedented in the immediately preceding centuries. Philosophers and critics writing during this period addressed themselves to a variety of aesthetic questions: What is the nature of taste? How are aesthetic judgments made and what justifies such judgments? What is the nature of the beautiful and how does it relate to other aesthetic qualities, such as the sublime or the picturesque? What is the nature of artistic representation and how does it relate to the beauty of the natural world?
Adam Smith is no exception to this trend. Although he produced no systematic treatise on aesthetics (or “criticism” as it was called among Eighteenth century Brits), Smith touches on these issues at a number of places in his work. In the following series of blog posts, I want to examine some of Smith’s most insightful and interesting comments on aesthetic topics.