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We need to return to the ideas of Adam Smith

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angryfirelord Donating Member (248 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 12:37 AM
Original message
We need to return to the ideas of Adam Smith
Now now, don't throw those tomatoes yet! What do you picture when someone mentions Adam Smith? Ultra laissez-faire for everybody? Unregulated corporations? Maximum wealth inequality?

Actually, you'd be wrong.

Much like how right-wing libertarians and conservatives have distorted the ideas of Jefferson to their political advantage, Adam Smith has fallen into the same trap in that a lot of people who doesn't support total free markets often point the finger at Adam Smith for starting it all. However, if the wingnuts had actually read his works, he comes out to be quite different. Here's an interesting post from a blog that I found:

http://bouphonia.blogspot.com/2004/12/adam-smith-lying-...

I just stumbled upon an Internet ad for an "Adam Smith" tie; I knew they were popular in the eighties, but I had no idea people were still selling them (let alone claiming that they're desirable because Dick Armey wears one). And yet:

Conservative leaders like House Majority Leader Dick Armey, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and National Right to Work Committee president Reed Larson regularly wear Adam Smith ties. It's the club tie of the conservative movement.


This idea that Smith is the prophet of modern economic conservatism would be funny if it hadn't been getting people killed for decades, and if it hadn't been debunked time and again. The modern conservative's approach to Smith is similar to the average 1970s socialist's approach to Marx: don't bother reading him, just listen to someone else describe what he said. But at least in the case of socialists, they had some idea of where Marx's sympathies actually were. For self-serving and vicious perversity, the conservative movement's misreading of Smith is second only to the Religious Right's misreading of the Gospels.

Here are a few highly pertinent quotes of his; see if you can imagine anyone in the Bush White House reading them, or hearing them read aloud, without a Cheneyesque sneer of contempt:

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.


That has a nice ring to it, eh? I think it would look good on a t-shirt, right under a drawing of Smith. Can someone get right on that, please?

Here's Smith on regulating workers and their masters:

When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.


If that's not wild-eyed pinko claptrap, what on earth is? Is there a conservative alive who would be surprised to see that sentiment attributed to Karl Marx?

Here's Smith on the evils of income inequality:

Our merchants and master manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.


Here's Smith engaging in class warfare, like the sniveling socialist demogogue he was:

Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.


Here's Smith on government's obligation to fund public institutions and public works for the good of all:

The third and last duty of the sovereign or commonwealth is that of erecting and maintaining those public institutions and those public works, which, though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it therefore cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain.


Here's Smith on the fleeting and contingent nature of power, and its tendency to destroy those who devote their lives to gaining and keeping it:

Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniencies to the body, consisting of springs the most nice and delicate, which must be kept in order with the most anxious attention, and which in spite of all our care are ready every moment to burst into pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor.


And last, here's Smith on altruism, that ultimate rationality which views all people as equals obligated to one another by common humanity:

What is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others?....It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration.


That's fairly stern stuff, I'd say. And I think we can all agree that were Adam Smith to lurch forth from his grave - his dessicated cortex suddenly flickering with coruscations of sentience, his spavined limbs tingling under the influence of some modern-day Frankenstein's galvanic rays - and say things like these on some cable news show, he'd receive tens of thousands of death threats, and William Safire and Bob Novak would laboriously take him to task in several consecutive columns, and Ann Coulter would call him a traitor, and the FReepers would hound him so mercilessly and illiterately that his only wish would be to know again the cold comfort of the grave.

I'd eat that tomato before it goes bad. :)
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Arcana Donating Member (89 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 12:42 AM
Response to Original message
1. Intresting, reminds me also of the distortions of many other philosphers such as Epicurus
I need to save this next time someone mentions this name again :D
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Tangerine LaBamba Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 12:45 AM
Response to Original message
2. After "Batman,"
he didn't really do anything meaningful.

I'm done with him...........................

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RandomThoughts Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 01:34 AM
Response to Original message
3. Even Adam Smith is on the Liberal progressive side.
Edited on Sun Aug-23-09 01:35 AM by RandomThoughts
The Republican arguments are in so much trouble.



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pnorman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 02:57 AM
Response to Original message
4. I once had a Noam Chomsky CD, that cited most if not all of those quotes by Adam Smith.
Chomsky was a great admirer of those who came out of the Age Of Enlightenment, and Adam Smith was one of them.I no longer have that CD, and have been able to Google only a few of them. THANKS! this is just what I've been looking for!

pnorman
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Captain Hilts Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 09:24 AM
Response to Reply #4
6. Smith's theory were in reaction to Hobbes' fatalistic, economic Darwinism. Good man, Smith was. nt
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pnorman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 11:22 AM
Response to Reply #6
8. The "irony" (perhaps "hypocrisy" would be a more accurate term),
Edited on Sun Aug-23-09 11:31 AM by pnorman
is that most of those bozos sporting Adam Smith ties are really disciples of Hobbes! And if you should ever encounter one of them, be sure to mention that Ayn Rand was an ATHEIST!

pnorman
Om edit: I'll have to Googlee later for confirmation, but I seem to recall that Adam Smith came out strongly for a GRADUATED INCOME TAX!
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angryfirelord Donating Member (248 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 11:40 AM
Response to Reply #8
9. Found it
"The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."
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Captain Hilts Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 09:12 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. Go, baby, go!!!
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-27-09 02:10 AM
Response to Reply #9
12. OMG, Adam smith supports PROGRESSIVE TAXATION!!! The horror!!!
:rofl:
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Captain Hilts Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 09:23 AM
Response to Original message
5. Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments" is IGNORED by the Right. Go, Adam!
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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 09:27 AM
Response to Original message
7. The Republicans' opposition to choice is based on Adam Smith's theory that the only true engine ...
... of economic growth is an increase in population. (Bush I blurted that out in a debate with Clinton and Perot in '92).

That may have made sense three hundred years ago, but it hardly makes sense now. Just like everything else about the RICO party these days.

RICO? That's short-hand for Republican-Infiltrated Corrupt Organization.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-27-09 02:07 AM
Response to Original message
11. Great Thread!
:)
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