Friday, January 12, 2007

Adam Smith Missed the Boat

Our world is dominated by it. And so we tend to believe it's natural. Even that it's divinely ordained. It's created billionaires, and opponents would argue, systemized the destitution of the majority of the world's population.

It's evolved of course, but the origins of capitalism can be traced to one man ... Adam Smith.

I'm aware I'm wading into controversial waters by embarking on a critique of Adam Smith, but after living in a so called Third World country for the past five and a half years, I've seen the negative impact of his economic view first hand. And it's been illuminating, to say the least.

I remember an article years ago by Harvard theology professor Harvey Cox about how the stock market was being treated like God. This excellent article originated from Cox's spending a few months observing the business pages after a lifetime of studying religion. He expected to be in completely foreign territory flipping through the Wall Street Journal. Instead, he found the language in the business section to be remarkably similar to Genesis and St. Augustine's City of God.

Today, we'll explore the roots of capitalism through its first big proponent, Adam Smith. And we'll do it from an interesting perspective, because our guest today is an artist! Albeit an extraordinary one. Gilbert Gambucci is a classically trained pianist who's played professionally on three continents. He's also an incisive researcher on Dr. Keppe's work - particularly in the area of socio-pathology.

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Georgy said...

I just listened to your podcast and I must say I don't think either of the participants in this discussion has read Adam Smith's book. You speak of a belief in benevolence or natural purity of the human beings but how about reading the book again instead of just advertising the opinions of your guru doctor? It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neccessities but of their advantages.
I could agree with some of the points you make about human behaviour, particularly envy and trickery, but your interpretation of Adam Smith's ideas differs so much from mine that I wonder if I read a different book by a different Adam Smith.

P.S. I see that in one of your previous podcasts you took on Charles Darwin. I wonder who is the expert coming from a completely unrelated walk of life with little or no competence to discusse the topic in that episode. Will it be a bassoon player? A finger painter? Maybe even a hairdresser? I can't wait to hear it.

Richard Lloyd Jones said...

Thanks for your comment, Georgy. The excerpt from Smith's book you posted exactly outlines our point in this podcast: Smith was completely naive in his understanding of human nature. Human beings do NOT help each other, even from self-interest. He was completely wrong about this. Our economic system is set up NOT to help the majority of human beings. I hope you will listen to the new podcast on Money and Power to get a little deeper into our ideas.
Thanks again for listening.

D Littleboy said...


I'm glad someone can see through this rubbish. I listened to the Darwin podcast. It's good he's thinking with someone else's head, 'cause he certainly can't think with his own. Obviously educated at a university with a theological bent. His frequent reference to the 'metaphysical' suggests psudoscience and the paranormal are within his realm of infantile thought.

Richard Lloyd Jones said...

Hard to know what to say about a comment like this. You make so many assumptions about me that it's clear that you don't listen to things to learn anything new, but merely to confirm what you already "know". That's hardly thinking, but that aside, there is an enormous unquestioning belief in both Darwin and Smith that is as fanatical and dogmatic as anything religion has ever proposed. You might want to consider that. Those who use the "he's just theologically trained (which I'm not, by the way) and therefore incapable of forwarding anything new on the subject" argument might want to check their projection at the door. Who's being more dogmatic and intransigent here, my friend?

It seems important to say that what I'm trying to approach is a return to some solid philosophical footing in these subjects ... and that makes for strong stuff to those who've already made up their minds, as you obviously have. But there is strong philosophical and scientific backing for challenging both of these pillars of modern thought - Darwinism and Smith's Capitalism - available for anyone willing to hear.

Sam said...

"Human beings do NOT help each other, even from self-interest. He was completely wrong about this. Our economic system is set up NOT to help the majority of human beings."

It isn't "set up" at all, it's an emergent property of clear ownership rights and free trade. Benefits to others are a necessary by-product of any self-interested economic action, they don't need to be altruistic, in fact they (that is, the benefits) don't need any human motivation at all since they're tangible products and services.

And as to using the economy of Brazil as an example of the ills of capitalism, please. The plural of anecdote is not data, but if you want anecdotal evidence, go visit Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, the Baltics and Hungary and then compare their standards of living and strength of economy to Belarus, Russia, the Ukraine and Bulgaria. All of these countries became "capitalist" in the early nineties, but the latter are failures and the former are successes. The reason is simple - Russia and similar failures don't have true capitalist economies, much like the majority of Latin America. Free markets + rule of law + equal protection = economic success. Remove or hinder any of these factors and you get quasi-fascist, not capitalist economies.

"But there is strong philosophical and scientific backing for challenging both of these pillars of modern thought - Darwinism and Smith's Capitalism - available for anyone willing to hear."

You're out of your magisterium. Philosophy is toothless against biological and economic theories, and as to "scientific", that's an obscenely all-encompassing word to use in this context. To invalidate Darwin, you need either biological, archaeological, geological or cosmological evidence that contradicts it. No such evidence exists, despite the fact that only one concrete piece of evidence would completely demolish Darwinism. Find a fossil in the wrong geological stratum, find geological proof of the Earth's age being even a quarter less than what is currently maintained, disprove plate tectonics, invalidate molecular biology, or any number of other finds, and Darwinism goes bye-bye.

I've listened to a few of your podcasts, and frankly, you're not saying anything at all, which is an occupational hazard among most dabblers in academic philosophy. You can't think away observed scientific data by applying some internally consistent, but completely divorced from reality, metaphysical construct onto them. Philosophy can only possibly answer questions about how we think about ourselves and our world, not the content of that world. So unless you want to go the full monty route of metaphysical subjectivism, steer clear of opining on things you obviously know nothing about, such as physics, biology, and economics, to name a few things. Next time, when you're visited by an artist, discuss art - nothing you say could possibly be discredited by anyone, and you'd get hours and hours of pretty verbal constructs to admire.

Richard Lloyd Jones said...

Thanks, Sam. But in fact the economic system IS set up. It's totally influenced by all sorts of things - lobbying, courts influenced by current political climate, biases of human beings - that to suggest that an economy develops independent of human influence is just plain naive.

As for the "successes" of economies that you listed, it would be wise to remember that this "success" is destroying the planet. Any more success like this we DON'T need. Success should be more linked to the internal essence of the human being (listen to our program on Money and Power for more explorations of this), not to dominance over and destruction of nature and resources.

And since when is philosophy separate from science? All science comes first from a philosophical position. You probably believe in the theory of evolution, so that will color how you see science. Philosophy lies at the base of science, not separate from it. The fact that the philosophical influences on science have been removed from the science textbooks shouldn't deceive us actually.

By the way, fossils HAVE been found in strange places, meaning places they weren't supposed to exist. They've found tools at 300 million years, footprints where they shouldn't be, etc. etc. (check out Survival of the Fakest by Jonathan Wells for more). And Darwinism is only strengthening. It doesn't go bye-bye because there is a philosophical belief structure behind it. What we're trying to do in this show is probe the thinking that causes us to think what we do. Although that may not impress you, I would suggest that the problem is your lack of understanding, not ours.