IDEOLOGUES ARE VERY BAD ABOUT HISTORY AND HOPELESS ABOUT THE FUTURE
Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism
In this episode of teleSUR's Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and author John Ralston Saul discuss neoliberalism as an ideology, the breakdown of that ideology, and what comes next. - October 27, 2015
“And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they've done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn't, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image--it's the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that's what Adam Smith said--but when you talk to them, they haven't read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn't taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you're doing an MA or whatever. They don't know Adam Smith. They don't know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they'll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we've seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody's ever done this before.”
I came across this piece accidentally this morning. Its fairly long and I disagreed with several parts, but the above paragraph I believe worth noting and considering.
The invisible hand was used by Smith as a metaphor and was not connected to theology. John Saul is partly right in that the IH was widely used before (and during) Smith’s time but it was definitely not a theological reference by him (see my papers: “Adam Smith on Religion” in Berry, Pagannelli and Smith, The Oxford Handbook on Adam Smith, Oxford University Press. 2014 and “The Hidden Adam Smith in his Theology”, Journal of the History of Economic Thought. no 3, 2012).
My main point of agreement with John Saul’s arguments is that Adam Smith is hardly, if ever, read by those who wildly quote him in pursuit of ideological propaganda (from both Leftist and Rightist wings. Much of the economics profession itself have never read his books, beyond quotations torn from their context, while popular media writers simply make-it up from what they get from their ideologues.
Markets have existed for several millennia and they have many prime virtues but that they have ever been perfect, or near perfect, is not evidenced throughout history. That they generally function better than state-run monopolies is true for all of their history and present experience.
Overall, societies with markets operate significantly better than societies that do not have markets - that is why individual and mass migrations always operate as one-way traffic from non-market economies towards poor market economies, and from poor market economies towards richer market economies (with all their blemishes). Rich residents in poor countries also migrate even if it they will to be poor in richer countries. Those overly critical of market economies, with all of their blemishes, should reflect on the evidence on their kind not migrating to poorer countries.
Leftist ideologues, like their Rightest counterparts, should reflect on Adam Smith’s frankness about the relative merits of markets amidst the history of the experiences of how “merchants and manufacturers”, the Rulers of States and their legislaters and legal acolytes, behave in practice. A little less pontification and a bit more history would be good for them.