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This paper gives an account of important aspects of Smith’s methods in An Inquiry Concerning the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (WN). I reinterpret Smith’s…
This paper gives an account of important aspects of Smith’s methods in An Inquiry Concerning the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (WN). I reinterpret Smith’s distinction between natural and market prices, by focusing on Smith’s account of the causes of the discrepancies of market prices from natural prices. I argue that Smith postulates a “natural course” of events in order to stimulate research into institutions that cause actual events to deviate from it. Smith’s employment of the fiction of a natural price should, thus, not be seen merely as an instance of general or partial equilibrium analysis, but, instead, as part of a theoretical framework that will enable observed deviations from expected regularities to improve his theory. For Smith theory is a research tool that allows for a potentially open-ended process of successive approximation. These are the Newtonian elements in Smith. I provide evidence from Smith’s posthumously published Essays on Philosophical Subjects (EPS, 1795), especially “The History of Astronomy” (“Astronomy”), that this accords with Smith’s views on methodology.1 By way of illumination, Smith’s explanation of the introduction of commerce in Europe is contrasted with that of Hume as presented in “Of Commerce.” I argue that Smith’s treatment is methodologically superior.
Can we model politics as exclusively based on self-interest, leaving virtue aside? How much romance is there in the study of politics? We show that James Buchanan, a…
Can we model politics as exclusively based on self-interest, leaving virtue aside? How much romance is there in the study of politics? We show that James Buchanan, a founder of public choice and constitutional political economy, reintroduces a modicum of romance into politics, despite claiming that his work is the study of “politics without romance”: Buchanan’s model needs an ethical attitude to defend rules against rent-seeking.
We claim that Adam Smith, more than David Hume, should be considered one of the primary intellectual influences on Buchanan’s public choice and constitutional political economy. It is commonly believed that Hume assumes in politics every man ought to be considered a knave, making him an influence on Buchanan’s idea of politics without romance. Yet, it is Smith who, like Buchanan, describes rent-seeking and suggests that public virtues may be the remedy through which good rules maintaining liberty and prosperity can be generated and enforced. Smith, like Buchanan, rejects sole reliance on economic incentives: the study of politics needs some romance.
Writing in 1995, what seems from our vantage point an almost primitive moment in technological evolution, hypertext theorist, and fiction writer Catherine Marshall, with…
Writing in 1995, what seems from our vantage point an almost primitive moment in technological evolution, hypertext theorist, and fiction writer Catherine Marshall, with her colleague David Levy, presciently described modern libraries;The academic and public libraries most of us have grown up with are the products of innovation begun approximately 150 years ago. We would find libraries that existed prior to that time largely unrecognizable. It is certain that the introduction of digital technologies will again transform libraries, possibly beyond recognition by transforming the mix of materials in their collections and the methods by which these materials are maintained and used. But the better word for these evolving institutions is “libraries,” not digital libraries, for ultimately what must be preserved is the heterogeneity of materials and practices. As library materials and practices of the past have been diverse—more diverse than idealized accounts allow—so they no doubt will remain in the future (Levy and Marshall, 1995, p. 77).By reminding us that libraries were always much more than repositories of collated pages of print, Levy and Marshall highlight the characteristics of modern libraries that mark them not as something new and different, but as something wholly in keeping with the diversity of “traditional” library holdings. “Our idealized image of a library imbues it with qualities of fixity and permanence. This is hardly surprising, since the library is considered to be the Home of the Book, and books are by and large one of the more fixed, more permanent types of documents,” the authors write, but “libraries have always contained materials other than books. Special collections and archives are filled with unbound and handwritten ephemera—correspondence, photographs, and so on … [And] traditional libraries have long contained a diversity of technologies and media; today these include film and video, microfilm and microfiche, vellum and papyrus” (p.77). Now that libraries contain various forms of digital media as standard parts of their collections (electronic journals, electronic catalogs, digital images, digitized sound files), the distinction between “traditional” and “digital” libraries has lost much of its original use, and so has the distinction between traditional and new types of librarians, the stewards of the libraries in any and all forms.
I was invited by Sandra Peart and David Levy to take part in the Summer Institute held from 26 to 30 July 2004 at George Mason University. After some discussion I agreed…
I was invited by Sandra Peart and David Levy to take part in the Summer Institute held from 26 to 30 July 2004 at George Mason University. After some discussion I agreed to give two lectures, on my project on the use of the concept of the invisible hand and on the theory of economic policy of Lionel Robbins and Friedrich Hayek, and to participate in a public “conversation” with James M. Buchanan before the same group. Subsequently, I accepted Buchanan's invitation to have a videotaped private interview by him.
Sandra Peart and David Levy's “The Vanity of the Philosopher” is an enlightening look into a potentially embarrassing (and certainly neglected by modern economists) period…
Sandra Peart and David Levy's “The Vanity of the Philosopher” is an enlightening look into a potentially embarrassing (and certainly neglected by modern economists) period in the history of economic thought. It provides a plausible argument that classical economics was transformed in the mid-Nineteenth Century from a discipline that took for granted the equal capacity for judgment of every individual actor to one that placed a premium on the judgment of economic experts. They identify the turning point as when economists began to reject sympathy as something that should factor into our judgments. The loss of sympathy makes the move to hierarchicalism much easier to achieve. In the Twentieth Century, hierarchicalism was overturned by the new egalitarian free market ideology of the Austrian and Chicago Schools, but the authors point out that sympathy did not come back with it. The result is that people now treat economic inequalities as a consequence of the market, but not as something that they need to worry about (since the assumption is that everyone has the power to change the market, if they so desire). The book ends on a hopeful note: now that the elements missing from current economic theory have been identified, it is possible that they can be revived in order to create an economic theory that is more attentive to the demands of social justice and offer mechanisms that might better motivate people to respond to those demands.
Nancy Maclean’s Democracy in Chains (2017) is an attempt to provide a narrative arc for the rise of free market ideas in political action during the second half of the…
Nancy Maclean’s Democracy in Chains (2017) is an attempt to provide a narrative arc for the rise of free market ideas in political action during the second half of the twentieth century and into the first decades of the twenty-first century. The central character in her narrative is neither F.A. Hayek nor Milton Friedman, let alone Adam Smith or Ludwig von Mises, but James M. Buchanan, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in economics. MacLean argues that rather than extol the virtues of the market economy as Hayek and Friedman did before him, Buchanan focused on the dysfunctions of politics. Due to a series of argumentative fallacies and failures that follow from her ideological blinders, I argue that MacLean’s attempt is a missed opportunity to seriously engage some very pressing issues in public choice and political economy and understand how James Buchanan attempted to resolve them in a democratic manner. As such, Democracy in Chains is not only a mischaracterization of Buchanan and his project but also a poignant lesson to us all about how ideological blinders can subvert even the sincerest effort to unearth truth in the social sciences and the humanities.