Adam Smith turns in his grave
things you should know
Poor Adam Smith turns over in his grave
to hear how his moniker is taken in vain
a man so concerned with how to behave
he'd not leave his fellow man out in the rain.
For starters, being born in the eighteenth century he would have been called a moralist, rather than an economist - a philosopher, not a technocrat - although he was a critic of what came to be known as captalism, that savaging institution John Dewey more rightly dubbed industrial feudalism.
Before Smith wrote that book the greedy pigs like to cite - An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations - he wrote another called The Theory of Moral Sentiments...and it is safe to assume he hoped those interested in the former had already read the latter...which is to say he wrote what he felt most important first. Wouldn't you? You doubt morality was his deepest concern? Well, throughout his life Smith referred to the author of the Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil (1725) as "the never to be forgotten (Rev. Francis) Hutcheson" - who spoke about little else (save aesthetics!) who held the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and was the first to lecture there in English and not Latin. You still doubt Smith would have been appalled at the use made of his name - indeed, the abuse - of his memory? How about this (p.448) from The Wealth of Nations: All for ourselves and nothing for other people seems in every age to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.
He favoured the wealthy? Think again, for in chapter II of The Wealth of Nations you will find this: The rich should contribute to the public expense not only in proportion to their revenues but something more than that proportion. Adam Smith would have looked admiringly on the tax program of the New Deal era when, it will be remembered, taxes on extreme wealth were nearly three times higher than they are today.
In writing about trade and wealth and matters of general economic concern, he stated plainly that a man should be free to exercise his skill at investment as long as he does not violate the laws of justice. Those are Smith's words. And what did he mean by "the laws of justice?" Well, the self-named "Christian" right might do well (ahem) to reread (even take a glance at) the New Testament...come on, people, you know what's right and what's wrong! In passing, the gospel of the Nazarene does nothing to hide its radical call to provide preferrential treatment for the poor - in fact, to wipe out poverty. Why do minorities cotton to the gospel? It speaks to their real needs... in this life, even if the men who wield the text want the downtrodden to take a rain check until some hypothetical next life. The rich and powerful know that if you keep religion out of politics, you won't be able to get away so easily with crimes against the vast majority of humanity.
Here's another bit from Wealth of Nations - this one from Chapter III: The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarecely admit a remedy....but I think - hope - he was wrong about that. One day democracy will win out. No, not that ridiculously expensive diversion known as elections - I mean real democracy: not what the cynical money men term "freedom," when what they mean is, as 'Nardo sang in West Side Story, "free to wait tables and shine shoes". No, not that misrepresentation. I mean where workers decide what goes on in the workplace. One third of life for the average employee in America has never seen much by way of democracy. Taking my cue from John Dewey I'll call it industrial democracy. I would call it "socialism" but that word has been systematically tainted with the smear of Red China and the former Soviet Union. In fact both regimes are examples of what should be called State Capitalism...hardly discernable from corporate capitalism or global capitalism.
Are you getting the pictire? Hear the word "capitalism" and what you will see is a picture of the real producers of wealth - working people - out in the cold. Trickle down, my ass!
Government? Smith rightly saw that so far as civil government is instituted for the security of property it is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor. (my italics) Does that sound like America to you? It should, because it is the unstated law policemen follow. They don't rough up guys in suits and ties. They take out their frustrations on poor kids. Especially less-than-spanking-white poor kids. In passing, America was set up to defend wealth and property, not to make any kind of accross-the-board equality possible, and certanily not equality before the law, although that is the one reasonable hope.
OK. I don't expect anyone here to read all of Adam Smith...but for the kids who might read this I leave you with a caution - any teacher who invokes the name Adam Smith in some way to defend unfettered capitalism.............is a liar.