Catherine Crier Attacks Conservative Dogma About Adam Smith

Adam Smith; engraving
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In an article in Huffington Post, Catherine Crier finds the Tea Party and Conservative view of Adam Smith and his doctrines to be ridiculous. In her interpretation (and mine), Adam Smith was at one with the principles of the mixed economy, that is, some regulation and some economic freedom. Here’s two key paragraphs –

Just as Jeffersonian democracy operates best on a small scale, Adam Smith believed his self-correcting free markets were ideal for small businesses in a domestic economy. Integrated in their communities, these businesses would be influenced directly by the needs and demands of consumers, and any dangerous or abusive conduct would rarely affect the broader economy. But Smith treated large, powerful companies very differently. He said big business was led by “an order of men…that generally have an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public”, and he referred to powerful corporations (then known as joint stock companies) as “unaccountable sovereigns” that were as dangerous to free markets as tyrannical governments. Unrestrained, they had the power to shape society and governments for their own purposes, and consumers would pay for “all the extraordinary profits” while suffering from “all the extraordinary waste”, the inherent fraud and abuse, that accompanies such immense economic power.

Smith stated emphatically that a strong government, acting through democratic and legal institutions, was the only entity capable of challenging such corporate power. Smith supported necessary government regulations, labor and human rights, public education, and progressive taxation to ease the economic and social inequities he knew would occur in a capitalist system. Without these “liberal” measures, social and political unrest would threaten a nation’s stability and his free market economy could not survive.

I have often been surprised what conservative say writers mean and what I read when I study the same text. She appears to have had the same experience. Few individuals read the Great Works of the Western World with any focus. The material is difficult and often lengthy as well but the Great Books are worth the effort.

I have long been a fan of Robert Maynard Hutchins and his belief in the importance of books and skilled reading. I have read almost a third of the books he lists at the end of his book, “How to Read a Book.” Let’s have more reading and understanding and less dogma.

James Pilant

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