Friday, March 06, 2015


Three introductory paragraphs of mine from the new book:  “Propriety and Prosperity: new studies on the philosophy of Adam Smith”, edited by David Hardwick and Leslie Marsh (Palgrave-Macmillan, are posted on the “Man Without Qualities” Blog HERE
“The ‘Invisible Hand’ Phenomenon in Philosophy and Economics” by Gavin Kennedy
"This chapter discusses Adam Smith’s rhetorical use of the ‘invisible hand’ in the context of his teachings on metaphors as figures of speech in his lectures on Rhetoric (Edinburgh, 1748-51; Glasgow, 1752-64 (LRBL). After Smith died (1790), a strikingly long-period of silence about his three references to an ‘invisible hand’ followed until 1875, when traces emerged of a Cambridge University oral tradition of debate about ‘Laissez-faire’ and the ‘invisible hand’ that were closer to its modern, ‘selfish’ versions than those used by Adam Smith. That oral tradition eventually leached into print (Pigou, 1922; Gray, 1931). Paul Samuelson (1948), transmuted Smith’s ‘self-interest’ into ‘selfishness’, which flooded across the discipline from the 1960s.
Much of modern analysis of the ‘invisible hand’ remains tenuously connected to Adam Smith’s more modest rhetorical purposes (Nozick, 1974; Grampp, 2000; Petsoulas, 2001; Aydinonat, 2008; Klein, 2009, and Tieffenbach, 2011). Few recent references are close to Adam Smith’s intentions, except, notably and exceptionally, Emma Rothschild (2001) on Smith’s ‘ironic joke’. Moreover, after 1875, intermittent references continued until the 1940s, when the trickle became a flood.
This chapter does not take sides on ideological debates about the merits of free-markets versus government interventions. Its focus is on the variance between Smith’s ideas and modern attributions of them in philosophical ideas and policies widely variant from Smith’s limited use of the ‘invisible hand’ metaphor. The consequential dragging deadlock and failures of unsound policies has heavy social costs in economic performance and public welfare.”

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


‘DecaHoo’ on Mens Basketball on “The”: HER
Adam Smith hit a lot of big shots with an invisible hand in his face.
Alula Berhe Kidani posts on Sudan Vision Daily (2March) HERE
After formal political independence, Adam Smith’s famous ‘invisible hand’ simply did not govern African agricultural production and trade.”
Valentin Schipfer posts (2 March) HERE 
“The Invisible Hand of the City Srikes Back”
It seems as if an invisible hand of the city enthusiastically seeks to not let any square centimeter equal each other – similar to the uncoordinated interaction between citizens of my above examples but on a different scale.
Paul Krugman posts (2 March) on Salon HERE
“Krugman summarizes that old illusion thusly: “The law of supply and demand, they say, determines the level of wages, and the invisible hand of the market will punish anyone who tries to defy this law.”
“Not so.”
Helen Razer in Daily Review (3 March) Review of new House of CardsHERE
“And, all the while, millions of Australians are goosed by the Invisible Hand.”

Saturday, February 28, 2015


PROPRIETY AND PROSPERITY: new studies on the Philosophy of Adam Smith, edited by David F. Hardwick and Leslie Marsh, Forward by Vernon Smith, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Included in the 14 chapters by the contributors is mine: Chapter 11: ‘The Invisible Hand Phenomenon in Economics’, pp. 198- 222, one of 4 chapters on the ‘invisible hand’.

Readers may not be surprised to note that my four colleagues writing on the invisible-hand take different approaches to the one I take on Lost Legacy. I may comment on their approaches on the Blog.

There is also chapter 14 by my friend and colleague, Craig Smith, Glasgow University: ‘Smith, Justice, and the Scope of the Political’.

NEW PAPER IN PRODUCTION: Adam Smith on “Self Betterment, Self-Interest, the Invisible- Hand, intended and Unintended consequences”

Presently, I am working on a paper resolving, I hope, the controversy of what Adam Smith meant by using the “invisible-hand” metaphor, which while it may not surprise many readers, and may provoke a few sighs of “so what” from those well familar with the Lost Legacy Blog, it certainly  enthuses me.
Perceptive visitors may note that I have not posted since 17 February, which is rather long for me and for which I apologise. The absence of posts is down to a lot of background reading I have recently undertaken, both in Adam Smith’s “Lectures On Retoric” (1762-3) and his “Lectures On Jurisprudence” (1762-3), as well as his two publishd books, “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759) and “Wealth Of Nations” (1776), and a fair selection of books by modern authors in Anthropology and Archeology (examples: Chris Skinner. 2011, “The Origins of Our Species”, Allen Lane and Cypprean Broodbank, , 2013. "The Making of the Middle Sea: a history of the Mediterarranean from the beginning to the emergence of the classical world". London: Thames & Hudson.
Smith was interested in the origins of humanity as a distinct species, of which in his day, knowledge was limited, as well as knowledge of evolution, except in the prevalent theological fantasies of the Eden Garden, dated supposedly by Bishop Usher as 4004 BCE (compare my papers on Smith’s supposed views on theology: Kennedy, G. (2011b) ‘The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Theology’, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, vol. 33 (3), September, 385-402; Kennedy, G. 2015. ‘Adam Smith on Religion’ in C. Berry, M. Paganelli and C. Smith, eds. pp. 464-84. The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
I am now composing my paper: Kennedy, G.Adam Smith on “Self Betterment, Self-Interest, the Invisible- Hand, intended and Unintended consequences”. It should be availble, hopefully in weeks, for publication, but in the meantime, as professional journal publications usually take from 18 months to two years to become available (I know this because I referee for such journals and by the time the referees sort out their, often contradictory comments, and editors choose which issue it should appear in, if at all, time goes by). I shall therefore post it on the (free) Social Science Research Network (SSRN) site within weeks of my concluding my work. My thinking for using this route is influenced by my 75th birthday last week and my general state of health, and a desire to read any feedback it may occasion.
Should any reader wish to receive notice on how my paper may be accessed in a couple of weeks or so, please send me a message and I shall arrange to do so, once the arrangements are made. Of course, readers’ comments are welcome, with the single proviso that their content conforms to the usual scholarly norms, appropriate for members the Academy. I can take harsh criticism, but cannot be bothered with personal abuse.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


NOAH BERLATSKY posts 17 February on The Atlantic HERE
“Adam Smith's invisible hand is a big paw of pleasure; the thing that pushes you willingly into capitalism's sacrificial maw is your own desire.”
Robbie Dinwoodies posts (19 February) HERE
"Handing out loyalty penalties”
“So why is it that that Adam Smith's invisible hand turns into a withered stump when it comes to so many suppliers of the other necessities of life such as financial services and public utilities?”
a.k.a metamorphising a metaphor!
Bloomberg View (19 Feb) on AZER NEWS HERE  and HERE 
“Oil Prices Set by Invisible hand”
“But the price of oil is another matter. That's going to depend on the headlines that reflect those national interests and technological advances -- or perhaps some new short term factors of the day. Traders rarely lack explanations for the numbers that skip across their screens.”

Yup! It’s the numbers, otherwise known as VISIBLE prices, that set the price of oil. There is no need for, and no such entity as “an INVISIBLE hand”. 
That’s just mumbo-jumbo speak from smart asses who make their money by getting between other guys with money and the VISIBLE prices in front of every bodys eyes. (Scottish proverb: “there’s none so blind as those who dinnae see”).

Monday, February 16, 2015


“Blood” posts (15 Feb)  on “Daily Kos” HERE
On Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand”
[Follow the link - it's too long to reproduce fairly].
“Blood’s” account is as thorough as it goes, but it is riven with leftist ideological prejudices as tiresome to read as the ideological prejudiecs of rightest ideologues, who argue the opposite tiresome cliches which “Blood” feels so strongly about. 
Do ideologues ever stand back and think about how their non-idelogical readers, whom presumably they are trying to influence, might react to what the've written? Do ideologues ever read the mirror-images of their leftist/rightist assertions from those to whom they are diametrically opposed? Probably not.
Its been some time since I read an Angry Bear post, to which I was once invited to contribute but got hammered by a correspondent who had no sense of history or of the evolution of law over the long history to which we were receded. After a couple of exchanges, I realised I was talking to a relatively uninformed ideologue every bit as ill-informed as the rightist ideologues with whom I tussle with regularly on Lost Legacy.
“Blood” acccouns for Adam Smith’s use on the “invisible hand” metaphor with accurate quotations from Adam Smith’s “Moral Sentiments” (1759) and “Wealth Of Nations” (1776), underlining his/her claim to have read both, which is more than the normal exponents have done who assert what Smith allegedly meant. But the good work “Blood” does in this respect is completely undermined with “Blood’s” aside that “Their outrageous highjacking of Enlightenment thinkers like Smith is an intellectual crime that long ago would have been prosecuted in a healthy and politically engaged society.”  
Really? Oh Dear! This is an appalling indictment of “Blood’s” ideology. What kind of Enlightenment thinking does “Blood” think he/she expresses in that explicit threat? What happened to free speech and liberty? Which recent society has he/she got in mind as a model for the society he/she wishes to live in? Is it modelled on today’s Venezuela? or post-war McCarthy’s USA?
Now Lost Legacy has posted much on Adam Smith’s use of the invisible hand since 2005 and a glance down the posts for the last six months show how close “Blood” has come to understanding what Smith was about. Smith spent a large part of Book IV of WN castigating ('violently" in Smith's words) the use of tariffs, prohibitions, blockades and warfare to prevent countries trading, thereby reducing domestic competition and raising domestic prices against consumers. Smith called these practices mercantile political economy. Incidently, the state monopoly of trade - common to all experience of ‘socialist’ governments - is a version of mercantile economics, producing the same result of relative poverty or the mass of the people, though the political elite escaped the rationing that their economic policies caused..
Smith’s uses of the IH metaphor were not solely focussed on market economies.  With fall of Rome in the 5th century, western Europe's early markets withered away, replaced by War-Lordism and, eventually  Feudalism, out of which commercial  markets re-emerged from the 14th century, amidst a great deal of general poverty. Agriculture  therefore existed for many millennia before markets emerged. When Smith referred to “since providence divided the land” he was covering a large slice of Human experience (though 'providence' had nothing to do with it). His attempt to show that these policies were benficial to labourers was, of course, a fable agreed upon. The relationship of “rich” landlords and their peasants were unequal. Landlords enslaved labourers and shared some of the produce of their labourers’ hard work, supervised by unfeeling overseers. Economically this relationshp developed the exchange relationship that landlords fed their labourers unequally from the produce their labourers produced and landlords which lived off the bulk of it. In real time and for many generations and in the long run, this relationship enabled the procreation of the species, which Smith counted as a social benefit. 
Those societes that did not resort to agriculture (i.e., the greater part of the world's human species) experienced a lower and precarious standard of living from hunting and gathering, and its populations expanded very slowly, if at all.  But agriculture and other landed ectivities (mining, particularly) developed simple technologies (crop rotation, water coursing) and also fostered early market possibilities - mainly "luxuries" - from extra-territorial trade (shipping, navigation) and, of course, dynastic warfare).  Richard Cantillon (1735) provided a more realsitic view of the division of the land that saw it as violent expropriation, leading to primogeniture, dynastic wars with rivals for thrones, which had nothing to with providence, a wholly mythical piece of theological fantasy..
Which leads us back to the "invisible hand". Briefly, Smith used the IH metaphor to “describe in a more stiking and interesting manner” (see Smith's "Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres" 1763 , p.29), a course he taught from 1748 to 1764), describing the cause of human motivations that led them to actions for intended consequences (Labourers for their daily food and landlords for their aspirations of local “greatness’). Their motivated actions also had unintended consequences, some, of course, negative (slavery, warfare) and some positive (slightly higher living standards than provided by hunting and gathering, hence population growth, if they avoided wars, diseases, and plagues).  His second example referred to those European merchants after the 16th century who were risk-averse to foriegn trade, their motives led them to keep their capital safer by their intended actions, and these two had unintended consequences, some good (higher domestic revenue and employment) and some bad (protectinionist actions and warfare in hostilities towards neighbours).
I suggest “Blood” thinks about what Smith was actually about and becomes wary of ill-thought theories in pursuit of an ideological chimera.
“Blood” concludes: “Adam Smith ... has been unfairly used and abused by the Right Wing long enough.”  I completely agree! With respect, Smith has also been “used and abused by the Right and the Leftwing together for long enough".

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Dr Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute posts (11 February) on the ASI Blog HERE  one of his high-value - and always brief - gems on economics.  He is posting a series of his statements exposing everyday wisdom that we read, often from senior scholars too, similar to what Lost Legacy counters on its Blog every week.  In the case I quote below, Pirie exposes the nonsense in a few sentences, whereas I normally can take a page or more when quoting Adam Smith’s clear refutation of the myths on this particular subject. So it is a pleasure to show a professional debater at work:
Economic Nonsense: 3 [by Dr Madsen Pirie:] 
“There has to be a winner in every bargain”
“This is not true, and is based on the false zero sum game fallacy.  The assumption behind it is that value is fixed, so that if someone gains more of it, someone else will obtain less.  People commonly ask who gets the best of a bargain, wrongly assuming that one party gains at the expense of the other.
In fact, value is not a fixed property of objects, but something in the mind of those who think about them.  People are different and they value things differently; and value is not fixed or in limited supply.  When a voluntary exchange takes place it is because each party puts greater value on what the other party has than they put upon what they are ready to trade for it.  When the trade takes place, each party acquires something they value more than what they already had.  Both gain in value; this is how wealth is created.
It is not a case of one party winning and the other losing.  Rather is it a win-win situation in which both parties have added value to their lives.
Just as both usually gain in a voluntary bargain between people, so do both sides usually gain in a freely-entered exchange between nations.  People in one country trade what they have in return for what they value more from the other country.  Both become wealthier as a result.  It is trade and exchange that makes countries wealthier, not trying to accumulate precious metals or plundering wealth from others.  When countries abandoned the idea that they could grow rich at the expense of others, the world’s wealth began to grow dramatically.  Trade has made everyone winners.”
[Follow the Link above and read Dr Pirie’s atriculate exposition on a range of economic topics on the Adam Smith Institue Blog]
Disclosure: I am a Fellow of the ASI.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Introductory Comments
I came across this short essay this week from Larry Wilmore’s Blog Thought du jour (Semi-daily posts, related largely to economics and government policy) HERE
I know two of the speakers in the podcast, academic Marianne Johnson, who assisted Warren Samuels, while he was very seriously ill, in preparing his final manuscript of “Erasing the Invisible Hand: essays on an elusive and misused concept in economics” (2011. Cambridge University Press), and  Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute (London), a well known and renowned figure in Smithian modern economics and its applications in the 21st century. (Disclosure: I am a Fellow of the ASI).
Below is a straight summary of the Podcast discussion subjects intended for the illuminating the commentator’s discussion. 
I would finally point out here that the statement by Benjamen Walker that: “The History of Astronomy (written before 1758, but published in 1811)” is incorrect. It was first published  as “The Principles which lead and direct Philosophical Enquiries illustrated by the History of Astonomy”, in 1795 and not as asserted in 1811. 
The first, 1795 edition of The History of Atronomy was prepared by James Black and James Hutton who were directed by Adam Smith on his death bed to publish it and not to burn it with most of his other unfinished manuscripts of his life’s work, just before his death in 1790, with which instructions they complied in 1795.
The 1811 edition was published by Dugald Stewart, a family friend of Adam Smith’s, the son of Professor Michael Stewart, Edinburgh University, who was a student friend of Smth’s at Glasgow University, 1737-40, and remained close to him as a friend as an adult. Dugald Stewart published a volume, containing the Astronomy Essay, as Volume V of his edition of Smith’s Works in 1811 (in which edition Stewart somewhat sneekily removed the names of both Black and Hutton the original editors).
As Thought du jour’s introductory statements are fairly neutral, I shall not discuss them on this occasion. (Regular readers will be familiar with my critique).
Thought du jour’s Report:
Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’
What, exactly, is the “invisible hand”, a phrase attributed to Adam Smith? Is it a sound economic principle or a myth propagated by the misreading of Smith? All this continues to attract controversy. If you are interested, I recommend a lucid, 12-minute podcast on the topic. You can access it without charge, courtesy of  The Guardian newspaper, at the link below.
When we asked you to nominate some intellectual cliches for this series earlier this year, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” cropped up repeatedly ….
In the third episode of The Big Ideas, Benjamen Walker discusses the meaning and uses of Smith’s concept with philosopher John Gray, academic Marianne Johnson, economist Eamonn Butler and Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee. ….
As we mention in the podcast, Smith himself only used the phrase “invisible hand” sparingly. ….
Benjamin Walker, “The Big Ideas podcast: Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’“, The Guardian Comment is Free podcast, 6 October 2011.
Smith did use the term ‘invisible hand’ quite sparingly. It appears only once in each of three published works, for a grand total of three times.
In The History of Astronomy (written before 1758, but published in 1811), Smith writes that there is no need to resort to the supernatural, to “the invisible hand of Jupiter”, to explain natural phenomena:
Fire burns, and water refreshes; heavy bodies descend, and lighter substances fly upwards, by the necessity of their own nature; nor was the invisible hand of Jupiter ever apprehended to be employed in those matters. [Emphasis added.]
The phrase appears a second time in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), in paragraph 10 of the first and only chapter of part IV:
The rich … consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. [Emphasis added.]
His third and last use of the phrase is in book IV, chapter 2, paragraph 9 of The Wealth of Nations (1776):
By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it. 


TM Cross writes (10 February) to The Herald, a national newspaper from Glasgow, covering Scotland. He berates the sitting MP, Gordon Brown, Kirkcaldy’s second most famous son, who was actually born in Glasgow, and Adam Smith, of course Kirkcaldy’s most famous son, born in Kirkcaldy (1723), HERE  whom Cross b;ames: “Gordon Brown must take some blame for the decline of Kirkcaldy”
As a native Langtonian [The 'langtoon' is a local, traditional name for Kirkcaldy's  singular long-length, because of its main west-east High Street] I was not overly surprised at the Tesco closure ("Every little helps as shoppers plan rally to save Tesco store", The Herald, February 9).
I have written in The Herald a long time ago pointing out the holistic decline of the once-substantial retail centre that was the very long Kirkcaldy High Street.
I also apportioned blame on the long-sitting MP, Gordon Brown, who while "saving the global economy" let the very heart of the "toon" atrophy into a commercial ghetto.
There is a sad serendipity in this tale of failed commercial and political planning. Almost across the street from the departing Tesco in the very centre of the once proud street sits the site of Adam Smith's Kirkcaldy home in which it is alleged he wrote his substantial work An Inquiry into Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nation. Though an advocate of the "invisible hand" he would have railed at Mr Brown's failure to use the substantial market-shaping powers he once possessed.
Mr Brown stood by while near-monopoly giants like Tesco were killing off the plural retail market that had produced the very commercial environment that made the High Street attractive to Tesco in the first place.
He watched year in year out for more than 25 years the steady decline of the High Street, where even the many of the 14 (I counted them) charity shops are closing.
His Prime Minister status and his global charity roles were predicated on the support he received from the good people of Kirkcaldy (and Cowdenbeath) who elected him as their MP. His last-minute attempts to retain Tesco and so save the High Street is another "saviour" political intervention that he has deployed (with some success) in his post-state-power personal messianic mission period.”
I have had many disagreements over the years with Gordon Brown, since out student days in the 60s and 70s, though we always remained on good personal terms, despite our different perspectives of what is best for Scotland (I voted 'yes' and Gordon led the 'No' campaign.
In respect of the above, fairs fair. Gordon cannot be blamed for the same things that happened in every town in Scotland, let alone in Kirkcaldy (and incidently, across much of Europe and North America), with the rapid phenonmenon of out-of-town major hyper- and super-markets that caused the rapid decline in local, in-town traditional high street shopping facilities. This created a serious planning problem in a regulatory world that insists on regulations for almost everything. These regulations tend to be administered by local, not national, governments and local town councillors decide on their priorities.
Gordon Brown’s political career was centred on national UK, not local, government. His only local interest was in continuing to get elected in national UK elections and his relations with locally-centred politicans was viewed, primarily, from that perspective only. Therefore, the major factors in Brown’s political career were focussed on national and international politics (for which he was responsible) and not on local politics, for which he was not responsible.
Postscript: I am unsure why TM Cross refers to: “the site of Adam Smith's Kirkcaldy home in which it is alleged he wrote his substantial work An Inquiry into Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations”.
There is no doubt that Smith wrote of the bulk of the Wealth Of Nations while at his mother’s Kirkcaldy home in the High Street. We know from student notes of his Jurisprudence lectures made in 1762-3 which include some near verbatim passages that re-appeared later in Wealth Of Nations in 1776, mainly in the early parts of this book, and that the majority of the longer parts of his magnum opus must have been written when he returned home to Kirkcaldy in 1767 to research and write, using his vast library, which he had accumulated while teaching at Glasgow University from 1751 to 64 and then shipped home to Kirkcaldy after he left Glasgow for France (1764-6)  and was in London for much of 1767. There was also no way in the 18th century that he could have carried such library to France and back; even shipping it safely from Glasgow to Kirkcaldy without trusted and efficient efficient supervision (his mother and his aunt and close friends).   

Given the thousands of detailed references and statistics included in Wealth Of Nations, we can be pretty sure he wrote almost all of his book in Kirkcaldy, with his library to hand, except for his relatively small, though important, comments on the ‘American’ question, as it unfolded from 1773 to 1775. I refer TM Cross to Ian Ross’s, definitive biography: ‘The Life of Adam Smith’, Oxford University Press’.
Finally, given Gordon Brown's status of being out of office and his non-attendance in the Westminster Parliament, and his recent interest in local affairs (the decline of Kirkcaldy's High Street) he probably has more time for local affairs, as shown in his initiatives in pushing for investment in developing Kirkcaldy's location as Smith's birthplace and restoring his mother's walled garden (her 18th-century house was demolished and replaced in mid-19th century) and centring its post restoration on an 'Adam Smith' trail and an annual local festival of conferences and education activities.