Sunday, October 15, 2017


Dennis C. Rasmussen, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that shaped Modern Thought”. Princeton University Press, 2017.
Dennis Rasmussen has written an excellent account of a neglected aspect of the intellectual stimuli associated with enduring changes in philosophy, political economy and, eventually, in the practice of science, from a period known as the Scottish Enlightenment.
Of course, the European Enlighenment was occasioned by a much wider geographical spread of many individuals than just the two above, albeit central figures, of David Hume and Adam Smith. But their intellectual relationship was a central factor that helped to determine the nature and consequences of what others in England, France, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia and Europe’s universities were doing separately and together.
Rasmussen captures to details of Hume’s and Smith’s contributions to Enlightenment thinking in a uniquely two-levels account. The main text is clear cut, stating the historical facts in clear manner as to what each believed. Hume, of course, was mostly controversial in his critique of the prevailing religious dogma and he attracted the ignorant hostile reactions of Church members. Smith, his junior by 12 years, and publically beyond suspicion as an apparently orthodox Christian believer in public, though in fact, privately he was a sceptic too. It took sometime for the pair to disclose privately to each other the philosophical basis for their mutual scepticism, and their quite different behaviours in the face of the hostile politico-religious environment of the times the lived in. 
The other levels of their relationship are revealed in Rasmussen’s use of an informative 50 pages of end notes for scholars interested in the supporting evidence for his assertions. Reading the main text together with the end-notes reveals the depth of Rasmussen’s scholarship. It also explains why he as written such an intensely interesting book about an intellectual relationship between two men at the centre of the Scottsh Enlightenment.
For all the things that Hume and Smith had in common intellectually they also had much that was so different. Hume took on the burden of establishing the empty philosophical basis of the dominant Christian religion of his times. His candour enraged extremist Christian believers. Pathetic attempts to drive Hume out of the Church of Scotland failed, not least because those who knew him well realised he was not an emissary of Satan, but a man of gentle scholarship and impeccable social manners and modest behaviour.
Here I would add some comments on Adam Smith whose conduct in the crisis of Hume’s decline and death in 1776 remains somewhat inexplicable in Rasmussen’s authoritative and otherwise excellent account.
Clearly, Smith wanted to playdown Hume’s insistence that he would not change his views on religion as he approached death, which religious persons’ anticipated would be dealt with by God severely in respect of Hume’s disavowal that there was a God.  Hume, of course, did not recant. 
My point here is that Rasmussen does not explain Smith’s role in Hume’s near-death discussions. I have suggested elsewhere that Smith’s views on religion and the existence of God are explainable and were discretely close to David Hume’s ideas .
See my two published papers: 1):  Gavin Kennedy, Journal of The History of Economic Thought (JHET, 2011. “The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Theology”, September, pp 385-402; and 2): and in The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith, 2013, “Adam Smith on Religion”, pp 464-8, OUP.  
Basically, Smith hid his views on religion from his mother, a devout Christian who had brought her only son up in a like manner. Adam would never do anything to upset his mother even at some personal cost in his relations with others. His partial amendments to his last edition of Moral Sentiments (1790) show clearly his private non-religious ideas, as amended in public statements after his mother had died.

Rasmussen’s ‘The Infidel and the Professor’ in my view is the best authoritative scholarly book on David Hume and Adam Smith published in the last 5 years. It is destined to be the classic book of those times.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Rene E. Ofreneo posts (11 October) on Business Monitor HERE 
The trouble is that the welfare state system has been eroding.  Economic globalization and the shift in economic thinking favoring free-wheeling neo-liberal economics are the culprits. The welfare state system is even on the brink of collapse in some European countries due to the global financial crisis, with the Austerians managing to control the levers of policy-making. This, in brief, is the reason the debates on the future of the capitalist system have been intensifying, not easing.
One of those engaged in the global debates is Prof. Robert Reich, US labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. In Saving Capitalism (2016), Reich argued for the need to reform America’s corporate system in order to save capitalism “for the many, not the few”. He demolished the old argument of “free traders” seeking less government role in business and in shaping the economic directions of society, stating that no “free market” is possible without government.  Further, he pointed out that the “invisible hand” in the market is not really that invisible; it “is connected to a wealthy and muscular arm” of the corporations.  Those who argue for free market are the ones trying to influence the market for themselves. Reich went on to outline how the American big corporations and their CEOs are able to manipulate the market and the politicians, monopolize products ranging from agriculture seeds to ICT data, hollow out manufacturing by outsourcing everything, organize business to maximize returns to shareholders, and minimize taxes for the rich.  An ex-Cabinet man, Reich concluded that the so-called free market system is really an alliance between Wall Street and Washington.
So what is Reich’s proposed alternative?  A return to Keynesian model of development where the government leads in designing, organizing and enforcing the market to meet the needs of the many, not the few.  He also argues for a fairer sharing of present and future wealth, not through a simple higher taxation for the rich but through an assurance that every citizen shall have a basic decent income.
Is this vision of economic governance possible in America?  In Europe? In the Philippines?  The answer lies in the collective hands of the millennials and the next generation.”
Professor Paul Reich is a product of his the economics that his generation absorbed from Paul Samuelson’s economics, which in turn were misappropriated from a misreading of Adam Smith’s singular use of the two metaphoric words, ‘invisible hand’, in his Wealth of NationsRene E. Ofreneo, the author of the above piece adds to the speculative confusion, with his politics that says nothing about the solutions to the identified problem. 
I think it is time to anticipate a theme in my Authentic Account about what Adam Smith actually meant in his use of the ‘invisible hand” metaphor. So later today I shall publish a brief extract from my explanation on Lost Legacy.

It won’t solve the problems of the world’s economies, but it will remove one area of muddled modern thinking about its causes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


David Bernstein posts (10 October) on The New York Times a conversation with Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi founder of the Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, HERE 
M.Y.: The capitalist system is based on a fundamental flaw, on misinterpretation of human beings. In capitalist theory, it is assumed that man is entirely driven by self-interest. That’s definitely not the description of a real human being. Human beings are selfish, and at the same time they are equally selfless, if not more. They want to help others. Adam Smith wrote this in “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.” He was a professor of philosophy. He was interested in morality. Then he wrote a completely different book that talked about self-interest and the “invisible hand.” The first book was forgotten. He never integrated the two books.
D.B.: If we integrated these ideas, what would be the implications?
M.Y.: Capitalism is all about options. But in the economic system, there is only one kind of business: business to make money — and it’s made more extreme by saying it produces best results when one maximizes profit. When we introduce the selflessness of people in the business world we get another option. Alongside conventional business, we add another type of business that will allow us to express our selflessness through business. The exclusive goal of this business, which I call social business, is to solve people’s problems. My book is full of examples of this.”
Another conversation where the participants discuss the real world as if their definitions of the real world describe reality - almost as if the economy they call capitalism listened to definitions and acted accordingly.
This error is profound. It sits alongside the absurd notion that Adam Smith “invented’ or somehow ‘created’ what we now call capitalism (a word first used in the 1830s - Smith died in 1790.
Even the sequence referred to by the conversationalists above is suspect. Muhammad Yunus wants to give capitalism a ‘social conscience” and thereby change human behaviours. He is building a false perspective based on a leaking boat. Adam Smith certainly wrote two books in two different episodes in his life, but not divided in the manner that Mohammad Yunus imagines. 
Moral Sentiments (1759) was appropriate at the time because Adam Smith was a Professor of Moral Philosophy. The subject that became economics did not yet exist. Smith’s other academic subject was Jurisprudence. He developed a strong teaching interest in Jurisprudence - the laws that governed human personal and necessarily, also, their social behaviours.
It was from this background that Adam Smith resigned his Chair at Glasgow University and spent ten years or more researching and writing Wealth of Nations based on what had been happening for centuries and had continued to happen in what we now call the economy, on a far wider scale in the late 18th crentury in North-West Europe. 
The Wealth of Nations (1776) and subsequent editions to 1789, addressed that transformation from the predominantly landed property economy to a market economy. It did not ‘invent’, nor create, capitalism. Nor did it ‘talk about’, ’self-interest’ and the “invisible hand” in any special manner.
 Indeed, Smith’s singular, once only, reference to “an invisible hand” in Wealth of Nations’ was ignored by Smith’s contemporaries and for much of the 18th century too by the many authors who wrote extensively about Adam Smith’s ideas contained in Wealth of Nations. Remarkably, major 18th-century and 19th-century economists when quoting from Wealth of Nations and addressing the ideas contained in or adjacent to the very paragraph that mentioned the ‘invisible hand’ did not mention nor comment on it their remarks.
The fact is that the so-called ‘invisible hand’ was ignored by his contemporaries and by his  successors! The significance of the ‘invisible hand’ is a wholly 20th-century phenomenon invented by Paul Samuelson n 1948.

Unfortunately, Muhammad Yunus, has been misled by those modern economists educated post-1948 into the modern myth of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’, as has David Bernstein.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017


Senator Linthicum posts (2 October) in the Upper Rogue Independent HERE
“Senator Linthicum newsletter”
“One of Adam Smith’s teachers was Adam Ferguson at the University of Edinburgh. In 1792, Ferguson wrote about the relationship between freedom and anarchy, “Liberty or freedom is not as the origin of the name may seem to imply, and exemption from all restraint, but rather a most effectual application of every just restraint to all members of a free state, whether they be magistrates or subjects.”
He continued, “It is under just restraints only that every person is safe, and cannot be invaded, either in the freedom of his person, his property, or innocent action…”
Adam Ferguson was not one of Adam Smith’s “teachers” and certainly not in 1792. Adam Smith died in 1790!
Moreover, Adam Smith never attended Edinburgh University. He was educated at Glasgow University, where, later,  he became  Professor of Moral Philosophy, before Smith retired in order to write what became the Wealth of Nations (1776)

They knew each other, of course. Ferguson set aside his “persoanl differences” with Adam Smith and attended him in the last days of Smith’s life, shortly before Smith died in Panmure House, Ediinburgh.