Thursday, August 29, 2013
“Poverty and economics, by Daniel Little: How important should the subject of poverty be within the discipline of economics? Some economists appear to think it is a very small issue compared to the magnificent mathematics of general equilibrium theory. Others believe that economics should fundamentally be about the sources of human well-being and misery, and that understanding poverty is absolutely fundamental for economics. How should we try to sort this out?”
I read an extract of Daniel Little’s argument on Mark Thoma’s (Department of Economics , University of Oregon) Blog Economist View HERE
The paragraph quoted above sets the tone for what follows and strikes a chord with what I posted yesterday on neoclassical economics. Now while what economics can offer for the debate on poverty is a worthwhile and appropriate subject for economists to offer views; it does not follow that necessarily they have the answer.
Little shows that some neoclassical economists deny that poverty is an appropriate subject for economists, which is controversial in itself. Follow the link and make your own mind up about its appropriateness.
Panmure House Restoration to Commence in 3 Weeks!
Panmure House NEWS
It has just been announced that the first restoration works for Panmure House where Adam Smith lived with his mother, Margaret Douglas Smith and his cousin and housekeeper, Janet Douglas, from 1778-90, are to commence on September 13, 2013. It is the only building where he lived that has survived to the 21st century
“ENABLING WORKS COMMENCE ONSITE”
“I am pleased to announce that we have now raised the necessary funds and completed the tendering exercise for the underpinning contract at Panmure House.
This contract will enable us to provide the additional height required for the main reception area and the proposed kitchen and toilet areas situated in the lower ground floor of the House. The contract has been awarded to MG Construction Ltd, specialists in this type of work. They will start on site on 16 September 2013 and the work will take approximately three months.”
This is excellent news. It has been a long struggle, mainly with officialdom. Panmure House is one of Edinburgh’s iconic Heritage sites that has been allowed by official neglect, as owners of the building since the 1940s and as legal regulators/”obstructors” of its restoration since it was acquired by EBS from them in 2008. Happily all is now well and EBS can get on with the necessary rescue and restoration and raising the funds to do so.
Of associated interest, a first edition of Adam Smith’s “Wealth Of Nations” is to be auction in Edinburgh on 4 September. I hope to attend the sale (as an observer, not a buyer!) to watch what happens. The guide price is £30 to 50,000 (a 1st edition was sold by auction in New York some months ago for $70,000).
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Economics: History or Physics?
Jag Bhalla asks “Is Economics More Like History than Physics?"
“Is economics like physics, or more like history? Steven Pinker says, “No sane thinker would try to explain World War I in the language of physics.” Yet some economists aim close to such craziness.”
Hat Tip to Dr Steven Kates, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing
RMIT University Melbourne , Australia
A brilliant, brief, and timely question from Jag Bhalia, whom I have quoted from before on Lost Legacy. It raises many questions that the discipline must face about its own history, especially at its turn from the 1870s to the use of mathematics (calculus of two variables primarily) that ignored Alfred Marshall’s advice to A.L. Bowley, a former student and distinguished pioneer of mathematical economics and statistics in the 1920s, to: “(1) Use mathematics as shorthand language, rather than as an engine of inquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can’t succeed in 4, burn 3. This I do often”.
From then on the mathematics took over and the more difficult work of wrestling with many influences operating on even simple decisions in economics were set aside, even derided with sneers in the profession.
It is not that maths is not a useful tool; it is, but it depends on what form the maths take.
I recommend David Simpson’s new book: “The Rediscovery of Classical Economics: Adaptation, Complexity and Growth.” Edward Elgar, 2013.
Simpson is an accomplished mathematician who abandoned neoclassical economics after his career in academe and applied economics consultancy. He advocates a more modern maths than that derived from 19th century physics.
A Stalinist's View of the Invisible Hand
Roland Boer writes “Stalin’s Moustache” Blog ("Marxism, Religion, Politics, Bible, whatever …") HERE
“Does Adam Smith’s invisible hand = invisible penis?”
“Probably the most abused slogan from Adam Smith is his “invisible hand. Even though it appears only three times in his writings, it has made more than one economist drool and not a few theologians see divine traces. First, the appearances: in his lectures on astronomy, he mentions the “invisible hand of Jupiter’, and then he casually drops a reference once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and again in Wealth of Nations. In the former, as the rich engage in their natural selfishness and rapacity, …
[The two quotations from the IH passages in TMS (IV.1.10) and WN (IV.iii.9) are printed in full.]
… The phrase has become rubbed and worn by passing through too many hands. Many have extracted the invisible hand from the particular concern of this passage with domestic industry and extended it to become an image of how the possessive individualism of capitalism works to spread capitalism as a whole.
Apart from all the usual dross on this well-worn member, I would like to suggest another dimension. … given that Smith is not averse to an occasional biblical allusion; and given his unremittingly masculine concerns, especially of males of ruling class propensities, I would suggest that the invisible or hidden hand may well be a subconscious allusion to that member concealed in his pants.” [Biblical references to ‘hand’ and ‘penis’ follow in the link.]
Roland Bear ends with: “[“After I finish trawling through the tiresome and often truly inane works of the classical economists and their forebears (Grotius, Locke, Smith, Ricardo, J.S. Mill, Malthus), I’m dying to settle in for some long evenings with Stalin.”
It certainly is an original piece of work, such as I have never seen elsewhere, as is the Blog by Roland Boer from Australia, which largely consists of antiquarian thoughts – literate certainly and intelligent also – in contrast to their overall, unreconstructed Stalinist content.
His reading of the “often truly inane works of the classical economists and their forebears (Grotius, Locke, Smith, Ricardo, J.S. Mill, Malthus” shows both depth and breadth of his scholarship.
At least Roland Boer’s account of Smith’s references to the IH metaphor are accurate as is his summary judgement on how modern economists have learned to treat it: “Probably the most abused slogan from Adam Smith is his ‘invisible hand’…” Their mistreatment of it is certainly worthy of that dubious accolade.
However, we are unlikely to agree on Smith’s intentions in using the IH metaphor
Roland adds: “the usual dross on this well-worn member” incorporating two metaphors “dross” and “well worn” and I would suggest he enquires further on the role of metaphors in English, perhaps also adding to his reading list of Smith’s works the 1762-3 “Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres” (Oxford University Press].
He might agree that modern economists have forgotten the role of metaphors and thereby we can find from that source that all the confusion about the “invisible hand” being in some sense an entity (“hand of God” and such like) dissolves. A metaphor does not exist; it is a figure of speech describing its object “in a more striking and interesting manner” (Smith, LRBL, November, 1762, p 29).
[Incidentally, a minor point: Smith’s “History of Astronomy” (posthumous, 1795) was an "Essay" and never a set of “lectures”.]
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Five Errors About Adam Smith and Classical Political Economy
Lee Elliott, Director, Wonderful Life Project, writes (24 August) in The Independent, Grand Island HERE
“What’s wrong with economics? It ignores altruism”
“There has been a fascinating struggle going on within the field of economics since the 1970s.
Historically, economics has been known as the “dismal” science because of its ruthless belief that people are motivated solely by their financial interests. This came from Adam Smith’s notion that if all of us act selfishly, then an “invisible hand” will guide the creation of the best society possible.
There is a flaw. Smith recognized there was a feature of human character that just didn’t fit this idea. That feature is altruism.
He said we do things for others even though we derive nothing from it except for the pleasure of caring for others. It just doesn’t seem to fit classic economic theory. It also was almost impossible to measure. As a result, economists dropped the idea that we’re altruistic.
In fact, there is a second flaw. Classic economics assumes we are consistently rational. We’re not. In fact, it has been demonstrated that, at times, we are quite irrational but we are consistent in our irrationality.”
Lee Elliot makes five major mistakes about Adam Smith’s ideas and what he calls “classic economics”.
I shall not elaborate on each mistake beyond identifying them and briefly commenting.
One: Lee Elliott ignores Adam Smith on “altruism”.
Smith wrote , “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), discussing “benevolence”, the 18th century word for altruism, and it featured in his even longer book, “An Inquiry in the Natured and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776).
He did not ignore what today we call altruism, and discussed it positively, but observed that it was not a strong enough moral force to provide everybody with their minimal biological needs in modern society. If everybody expected their modern dinners from benevolence, who was left to labour to produce its ingredients for everybody, as well as every thing else they needed?
Two: Lee Elliott ignores the true history of the phrase the “dismal science”.
This phrase was created by Thomas Carlyle in 1849 in his short pamphlet, originally entitled the “Nigger Question” (later changed to the “Negro Question”), which was a disgraceful racist diatribe against John Stuart Mill, an economist, for supporting a petition favouring the emancipation of Jamaican slaves. That the phrase was later back-projected to refer to something different about early economists (Malthus particularly) is no excuse for giving the disgusting phrase credibility.
If Lee Elliott knows its history and still uses the phrase, he is, I hope, beyond the pale for readers of the Independent; if he did not know its history, he must inform his ignorance forthwith.
Three, it was never “Adam Smith’s notion that if all of us act selfishly, then an “invisible hand” will guide the creation of the best society possible”. Nowhere in his writing does this outrageous notion appear. His writings on “self interest” were clearly descriptive (he was a philosopher, not an evangelist) and are carefully shown to be about self-interested people mediating their differences by mutual persuasion and the exchange of concessions in a voluntary bargaining process.
The “selfish” notion came from modern economists, particularly Paul Samuelson in 1948 in his popular textbook. I have discussed this source many times on Lost Legacy and invite Lee Elliot to scroll previous posts.
Four, Lee Elliot is confused about the history of “classic economic theory” and the dropping” of “altruism” because it was “almost impossible to measure”. Classical theory regarded “benevolence”/”altruism” as an integral part of moral philosophy in political economy; which became (post-1870) neoclassical theory (post-1920) by turning to model economic behaviour mathematically and statistically. Lee Elliot melds these two distinct schools of economics together and thinks they are the same. They are distinctly different. The neoclassical school obtained “scientific” credibility at the expense of understanding the real world.
Five: This “achievement” which also “assumes we are consistently rational” is, like Samuelson’s “selfishness”, a chimera. Humans apply reasoning to suit their perceptions of their circumstances and prospects, but they are not consistently “rational” in a mutually consistent manner. The myth of “Homo economicus” (from the 1870s) is a non-existent entity, as are theories of “rational expectations” and all the other aspects of “perfect information” supposedly guiding actors in an economy. All these ideas belong not to “classical economics” but solely to its “neoclassical” inheritors, the ideas of which remain antithetical to Adam Smith’s.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Adam Smith On Metaphors
From Professor Don Boudreau’s ‘Quotation of the Day’, Café Hayek, HERE 18 August:
“To them the market economy is largely incomprehensible …and its results seem to them irrational and immoral. They often see in it merely an arbitrary structure maintained by some sinister power”. From: F. Hayek, 1979. “The Political Order of a Free People” in “Law, Legislation, and Liberty”, vol. III. p. 165.
Friedrich Hayek’s observation chosen by Professor Don Boudreaux (George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia) in his regular and most informative Café Hayek Blog is apt.
In particular,note Hayek’s last sentence: “They often see in it merely an arbitrary structure maintained by some sinister power”.
Among the offenders who might be covered by the scope of it, we can include all those who rely on vague ideas of an active, motivated, and wholly mysterious “invisible hand” that directs people to play their disparate parts in the “market economy” to create the “best of all possible world”, and something closely resembling the “public good”, no matter what their motives, including “selfishness”.
Some of them see the “hand of God” at work, others a benign “invisible” force that is both “magical” and “mysterious”. Worse, they credit their examples of their crass imaginations to Adam Smith, a philosopher, who did no such thing.
In fact, Smith did the exact opposite: he showed how markets work through visible and known prices – today, through billions of visible prices - many changing irregularly somewhere all along each market’s complex interfacing supply and demand chains, from the reactions of individuals to changing prices without any one of them knowing, or needing to know, the identities of scores of other individual’s more than a very few links away in a market ( a great theme of Hayeks).
Smith correctly identified that individuals participate in markets and act from their motivations that are “invisible” to others – we cannot see into the minds of any other individual – and he described actions that follow from any individual’s hidden motives by using the metaphor of their being “led by an invisible hand” to act in accordance with their motives. Which in the specific case he was examining – merchants who decide to invest their capital in “domestic industry and employment”, instead of investing it abroad. Their actions, added Smith, had “unintended consequences”, specifically in this case, of leading to a “public” benefit through the arithmetic increase in the annual total of “domestic revenue” (for society) and the annual total of employment (for labourers and their families from paid work) (see Wealth Of Nations, 1776, Book Four, chapter 2, paragraphs 1-9, pages 452-456).
From a failure to comprehend the role metaphors in the English language (and its US version), they casually created an imaginary body of economic ‘theory’ that has burdened economics with delusions about how markets work, so far impervious to attempts to correct the error.
As a straightforward corrective, I offer two steps to a remedy for the “invisible hand” fable, now dominant at the highest levels among modern economists.
First, on the role of metaphors in English, I suggest sceptics consult Adam Smith, of whom many economists may be surprised to discover he also lectured for many years throughout his academic career on the use and meaning of English grammar, and specifically on the role of metaphors.
A set of students’ notes exist on those lectures: A. Smith, 1762-3 “Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres”, Oxford University Press, and in a cheaper popular edition available from Liberty Press.
Turn to “Lecture no 6, Monday, 29 November, 1762: ‘Of what is called the tropes and figures of speech’ (pages 25-32). Smith makes a clear statement, describing the role of metaphors:
“The Grammarians however finding that the best authors frequently deviated from their generall rules and introduced those figures of speech as they called them; and finding also that they were most frequently met with in the most striking and beautifull passages, wisely concluded that these figures gave the passage j all its beauty; not considering that this beauty flowed from the sentiment and the elegance of the expression, and that the use of figures was only a secondary mean sometimes proper to accomplish this end, to wit, when they more fittly expressed the sense of the author than the common stile” (p 25-6) (Original note-taker's spelling).
“In every metaphor it is evident there must be an allusion betwixt one object and an other. …Now it is evident that none of these metaphors can [can] have any beauty unless it be so adapted that it gives the due strength of expression to the object to be described and at the same time does this in a more striking and interesting manner” (p 29).
The metaphor is not the “object”; the “object” to which the metaphor refers “in a more striking and interesting manner” is the non-visible motives from which the actor, the merchant, who feels insecure from the risks to his capital in the “foreign trade of consumption”, the cause, avoids foreign risks to his capital by investing locally, instead, in “national revenue and employment”. This behaviour has “unintended consequences”, which were not part of the merchant’s intentions, i.e., they did not cause him to invest locally. Motives cause actions, not the consequences of them.
In short the “invisible hand” describes in a “more striking and interesting manner” the cause and not the consequences, which at root is the source of the completely incorrect assertion of an invisible directing hand operating in markets. Adam Smith’s point was clear grammatically to himself and to his students, none of whom mentioned the IH metaphor in the modern economists sense, including several distinguished winners of Nobel Prizes. Those who attended his lectures or read his books while he was alive (to 1790), or afterwards, until a professor of law, then a graduate student, did so in 1875.
Even from then, the modern version of the IH metaphor, which transformed it into its “object” in its own right, rather than remain a metaphoric description ("in a more striking and interesting manner”) of its bject, until 60-plus year later, when it suddenly burst out all over the discipline in tens, later hundreds, of thousands of mentions per year at all levels in repetitive assertions completely at variance with Smith’s more grammatically simple, innocent, correct usage in 1776 (only once) and 1759 (only once) (and in a student essay only once in c.1744-58). Together hat makes only three mentions by Smith in all of his works.
This is long way from Boudreau’s quotation from Hayek, but it is not a long way from the source of the superstitious belief in “magic” and “miracles” working in markets to create a world that is the “best off all possible” worlds, lauded by some extreme ideologues on the right and denounced by extreme ideologues on the left.
Both sets of ideologues, and those in-between, can sort out their confusion by considering the appropriate role of metaphors when reading in the English language.
There is no "invisible hand" directing markets and neither is there a "visible hand" directing governments. Prices drive markets; politics direct governments.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Adam Smith on Self-Interest, Bargaining and Invisible Hands
“greg” posts on “Another Amateur Economist” HERE
“Regulating the "Invisible Hand'”
“The ‘invisible hand’ has come to imply the idea that the pursuit of narrow self interest by individuals results in the best social outcome. Adam Smith, who first used the expression, more narrowly applied it to the concept of markets: “specifically that it is competition between buyers and sellers that channels the profit motive of individuals on both sides of the transaction such that improved products are produced and at lower costs.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_hand
The generalized idea is not valid.
In general, action by the members of a society must not only be self seeking, it must promote the well being and goals of that society. To put it in economic terms: Society must profit, and the action of individuals must, in that respect at least, be virtuous. Indeed, every prosperous and stable society has elevated the idea of virtue among its citizens, and devised means to encourage it. Those most esteemed were those who contributed the most to society. They were those who were held to be the most virtuous, and received the greatest rewards. Those who were merely self serving were held in contempt, what ever their material income.
While an individual person may or may not be inclined to virtue, a corporation, however, cannot be virtuous, unless forced by law and circumstance of competition. Only the pressures of competition make a productive corporation stay productive, that and the force of law required to make the corporation internalize its costs.”
I selected these two paragraphs from the head of “greg’s” post as the possible source of his ideas that follow in the above Link. Judging by what follows and his side-bar, it seems that “greg” is familiar with a load of economic ideas. On the above first paragraph he is woefully misled by his reading, albeit with the self-proclaimed label of “”amateur”, which suggests a familiarity with economics of which most college graduates would be proud.
Now to facts: Adam Smith was not the first educated writer to use the “invisible hand” metaphoric figure of speech. It was widely I circulation in the 17th and 18th centuries, and was in evidence in even earlier times, mainly from its association with theology and occasional dramatic contexts (Shakespeare among others).
Adam Smith did not more narrowly apply the IH metaphor “to the concept of markets”. In fact he did not mention its role in markets at all in any of the three (only) occasions in which he used it. He certainly used it in a narrower context than today’s more general assertions as to what he referred to or meant. (Warning: Wikipedia is not always reliable)!
I suggest politely that “greg” look up where Smith used it in his “Wealth Of Nations” (Book IV, chapter 2, paragraphs 1 to 9, pages 252-56). Smith referred to a merchant who was concerned about the security of his investments if he sent them abroad and therefore decided to confine his investments to “domestic industry” only. It was his desire for “security” that motivated his decisions to invest locally, and his motivations were invisible to others of course, we cannot see into another person’s mind.
Smith chose to describe the merchant’s motivations “in a more striking and interesting manner” by using the IH metaphor, which conforms to Smith’s own definition of the use of a metaphor in English in his “Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters” that he delivered at Glasgow University (1751-64), and previously at Edinburgh from 1748-51. It also conforms to the definition of metaphors in the definitive Oxford English Dictionary (and all US dictionaries I have seen).
Now the motivations (the cause) of the individual merchant’s actions resulted in “unintended consequences” (the effect). Quite simply the merchant’s domestically invested capital arithmetically added to the annual amount of domestic “revenue and employment”, which Smith regarded as a “public benefit” (simply: the ‘whole is the sum of its parts’). Nothing more complex than that!
It had nothing to do with “competition between buyers and sellers that channels the profit motive of individuals on both sides of the transaction such that improved products are produced and at lower costs.” That is a 20th century add-on to Adam Smith’s use of a simple metaphor; it had nothing to with general equilibrium, nor Pareto’s theorem nor any of the other invented constructions placed upon it by modern economists and in political manifesto’s.
In greg's" second paragraph, Adam Smith never suggested “self interest” was about “self seeking”. Self-interest must be realised through what modern theorists call “other regarding”. The individual “butcher, brewer and baker”, in his famous example, also had self-interests as well as the person seeking her dinner goods. Smith specifically advised the buyer to “address the self-love” of the sellers and not to talk only of her “own necessities”. Smith called this “bargaining”. In short, each party must persuade the other by mediating their self-interests to find a compromise on the initial asking prices and offers acceptable to both of them: “Give me that which I want and you shall this which you want”. (see WN Book I, chapter 2, paragraphs 2 ad 3, pages 26-27) and also various references in Smith’s “Moral Sentiments” to moral persuasion.
Monday, August 12, 2013
My Review of "Adam Smith - The Grand Tour"
“The Adam Smith Tour” written and performed by Vanessa Oltra, with fellow actor Frederic Kneip, join in a production, by Compagnie Les Labyrinthes, arrived at the French Institute last week and will be performed for another two weeks during the Edinburgh Festival.
I approached the “Adam Smith Tour” as someone with an interest in Adam Smith and not as a dramatist, the latter of which I have no pretensions to any expertise. To date, over the years I have attended three Edinburgh Festival dramatisations about Adam Smith, of which the Les Labyrinthes production is by far the best that I have seen.
It is about the ideas of Adam Smith. It is not about fantasies about his ideas or his life (in last year’s case that play was about his after life with David Hume!). All these other plays were written for dramatic or political affect by their authors.
Vanessa Oltra, an associate professor (Senior Lecturer) in economics at Bordeaux University, who wrote “Adam Smith’s Tour”, is alert to the incongruities of most of the presentations of Smith's ideas by modern economists. She is by training in the French education system an accomplished mathematical economist, who clearly has read Adam Smith’s works, thought about them too and not just read and accepted the usual modern interpretations.
Now putting Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759) and his “Wealth Of Nations” (1776) into a digestible dramatic performance is a serious challenge. She copes with that challenge – indeed, surpasses my expectations, based on the other author’s attempts – in an impressive display of dramatic imagination, while keeping true to Adam Smith’s intentions and his ideas.
She did this by using the device of two foreign tourist visitors ("Mr and Mrs Smith") to Scotland keen to visit Adam Smith’s grave in the Canongate Kirk yard and as keen to explore what is known about his ideas by the many visitors to his statue (opposite to where he worked in 1778-90) as a Scottish Commissioner of Customs (currently its the Edinburgh City Council building) where the statue stands, 19 feet high.
Vanesaa Oltra uses the organization, The Adam Smith Institute (London), responsible for raising the funds and negotiating with the City Council for permission to erect the statue, as a means of contrasting some modern ideas about Adam Smith’s ideas directly with some of the ASI’s somewhat different ideas about the morality and economics of Adam Smith (though I am not so sure she covers the whole spectrum of ideas about Smith in ASI (Disclosure: I am a Fellow of the ASI and I am not alone in my expressed views which they often publish without any censorship).
She achieves this objective with the play’s blend of a double screen portrayal of filmed scenes of her character, "Mrs Smith", with, in this case, supposedly, the Director of the Adam Smith Institute (ASI). It makes for some uncomfortable viewing, though I should add, it is not representative of all people associated with the ASI.
The play uses the filmed screening to affect throughout the play, and does so effectively.
She also shows the bureaucratic obstacles to the play’s feature of “Mr and Mrs Smith” (Frederic Kniep, and Vanessa Oltra) trying to get permission to visit Smith’s grave and lay some flowers inside the fenced-off area around it. Yes, she sums up the endless intellectual tortures of dealing with City bureaucrats over quite simple issues – placing flowers on Smith’s grave - let alone far more complex, matters of restoring Panmure House, where Adam Smith lived in Edinburgh (1778-90), almost next door to the Canongate Kirk. Little wonder the two actors appear for much of the time in military style, commando uniforms and gunfire is a regular foreground sound affect!
The play shifts over to Glasgow University in the rebuilt buildings taken from its original 16th century site off the High Street and erected brick-for-brick at its 19th century, and present site, of Gilmore Hill, to the west of Glasgow city centre.
Here Adam Smith was a student (1737-1740) of Moral Philosophy and the Professor of Moral Philosophy (1751-64). Frederic Kniep, switches roles convincingly from plain ‘Mr Smith’ to deliver a lecture in University Garb as Professor Adam Smith. His lecture is verbatim from the first part of Moral Sentiments and dramatically delivered with interrupted suggestions on the appropriate delivery style from Vanessa Oltra, playing a role as the play’s director, to capture what we know of Smith’s actual lecturing style. From former students we know he was hesitant at first, then upping his pace and finally becoming quite animated as he approached his main points of emphasis for his young students.
Oltra’s filmed vox populi around the Adam Smith statue, where she queries what they know about Adam Smith in general and specifically what they know about the “invisible hand”, is instructive. The IH metaphor is not widely known to the selected interviewees, nor for that matter was Adam Smith, but then I do not suppose that people in the High Street would know much about David Hume, whose statue is a few yards away across the street.
I am not disappointed by this discovery. Why not? Because even in Smith’s day, among his readers, nothing appears to be mentioned by anybody in print that comments directly on Adam Smith’s so-called “invisible hand”, even though it was a fairly common metaphor in use, mainly by preachers and theologians (“hand of God”) before and during Smiths time. The IH metaphor was decidedly not mentioned by his contemporaries in any economics or philosophical context (he only used it three times), nor was it associated directly with his name until 1875, and hardly much afterwards until the 1950s. After then references showered down in the literature, becoming ubiquitous around his name until today. The myth was born and thrives, sadly, this day.
The play closes with ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ finally getting into his grave site – the railings were erected to protect the site from the detritus left by homeless addicts and vandals. This was quite moving; people being kept out of Smith's grave site and ignorant of the truly moral professor compared to the “founder of capitalism” (a word he never used or knew) and an exponent of the social good that selfish individuals supposedly do for us. What a travesty!
I conclude that “Adam Smith – the Grand Tour” deserves the accolade brilliant. My congratulations to Vanessa Oltra and Frederic Kneip for making “Adam Smith – The Grand Tour” a well-crafted dramatic experience, at least for me and, I am sure, for many others too.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
The New Adam Smith's Play Reviewed
Sam Khan-McIntyre writes in the Edinburgh Reporter (“a capital read”) a thoughtful review of
“Adam Smith-Le Grand Tour ****.5” HERE
“An intellectual and entertaining journey through the life and works of Adam Smith, explaining how his ideas on economics are incorporated into modern society, but in a distorted manner. The show is presented in multimedia form with two actors who interact with the big screen. The background film includes vox pops, which show how the founding father of economics and liberalism is unknown or misunderstood.
Senior economics lecturer and actor Vanessa Oltra plays Marie, a petite brunette, whose position as a senior economics lecturer and with PhD in the subject lends authenticity to the message of the play. Actor Frederic Kneip plays Fred with a rough charm as the couple journey through Scotland. The hushed audience of varying ages sit in the darkness silently, looking very serious. They number around 50, with the theatre two-thirds full.
The show begins with cinema sized film spread across the whole stage beginning with a sombre cab ride to Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh. Smith is buried here, and the actors are seen carrying a bouquet of white roses.
The actors appear centre stage dressed in camouflage from head to toe, as if ready to take on a battle. They are set against the film backdrop of a jungle.
As the play progresses, the scenes cut to the beautiful grandeur of the cloisters at Glasgow University, where Adam was Professor of Logic, and also to his statue on the Royal Mile, to the hustle and bustle of busy city streets where people are questioned on his philosophies, but know very little in comparison with his influence. In one scene, Fred plays the part of Smith himself, attired in a bright red floor-length silk gown with wide sleeves, and a white wig. He goes as far as to adopt a Scottish accent, in a comedic moment. However Marie who plays stage director asks him to tone it down, due to it causing confusion. She may be right as the Scottish accent coupled with his natural French one is a little odd.
Their aim is to educate the audience about what Adam Smith’s work actually meant, with citations and references to it. They contrast this to the way it is interpreted by the capitalist system and government to justify their actions in terms of economics.
Beginning the performance, Marie talking as if to Smith, and says: – “Do you know you are the founding father of economics, your invisible hand has crossed many continents…I want you to wake up now and tell us what you think of this. I warn you, economics is not to do with morals and philosophy any more…or human beings”.
Fred also discusses this same idea, attired as Smith. He talks about Smith’s attitude towards pleasure, passion and sympathy for others. He says melancholy comes from deprivation of a loved one, through death, which is a terrible situation and injustice for mankind. As a result “we sympathise for the feelings of others” and feel love. “We feel much for others and little for ourselves…mutual love and respect”.
Smith’s legacy is illustrated in the interview with the president of the Adam Smith Institute, which is a UK policy institute supporting the free market economy. The president is shown on film, the screen in two parts on each side of Marie at centre stage. He is facing away from her and sits passively. She speaks to him about the difficulties in establishing any link with Smith, and suggests his ideas were not just as simple as we may think.
The screen goes blank briefly and white noise appears as the signal is lost. She then asks the director if she can submit a citation from Smith, book 5, for the website, but the president shakes his head, even when she offers a substantial donation.
At the end, symbolising the real Adam Smith and his work, the play comes full circle as Marie and Fred, are seen at the cemetery, in order to pay homage and lay the white roses at his grand tombstone. They aim to obtain entrance through its iron gates, access to which proves to be restricted
The play is tightly directed by Gerard David, in a successful attempt to fit in important aspects of Smith and his legacy into one hour. It therefore moves at a fast pace. What could be perceived as dry and serious material is transformed into an entertaining, appealing and comedic hour incorporating the film footage.
Smith and his philosophies are therefore successfully and vividly brought to life."
I noticed this excellent review on the web while composing my own review of "Adam Smith-Le Grand Tour". I post it now and shall post my review tomorrow, though it is compatible with my own sentiments.