Friday, February 2, 2024

The History of the World (condensed), Ch. 5

The United States and modern economics both began in the same year. 

Image by JJ Jordan from Pixabay

This is a weekly column consisting of letters to my perspicacious progeny  the Stickies — to advise 'em now, haunt them after I'm deleted.

Trigger Warning: This column is rated SSC-65: Sexy Seasoned Citizens   



Featuring {Dana}Persistent auditory hallucination and charming literary device 

"History becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." 
                                                                                          -H.G. Wells

Dear Stickies (and gentlereaders),  

In the year 1776, after a coupla hundred thousand years of just scraping by and occasionally killing each other while simultaneously trying to avoid being killed by a somewhat bloodthirsty Mother Nature, some H. sapiens launched the American experiment and a Mr. Smith published a book. 

Adam Smith was, and is, a well-regarded absent-minded professor with a first-rate mind. He gave up his day job as a popular professor at Glasgow University in 1764, to tutor and travel with a young Scottish nobleman (road trip!). 

They spent a couple of years touring continental Europe and met several leading thinkers of the day (e.g. Benjamin Franklin) and Mr. Smith was given a life pension by the grateful nobleman that enabled him to spend the next ten years or so working on his magnum opus, “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.”

In other words, he set out to discover the best policies a given nation should pursue so that everyone could make a buck.

Warning: do not try to read The Wealth of Nations unless you enjoy the writing style of 18th-century academics (I’m thinking this is a relatively small group of people) and you’re much smarter and more patient than I am (I’m thinking this is a relatively large group of people). 

The commas and semicolons seemingly reproduce themselves as you try and decipher the text. Find a commentator that you trust to render Mr. Smith’s ideas into modern English.

In Mr. Smith’s defense, it ain’t easy to be one of the founders of a field of study (modern economics). Also, I must warn any kneejerk anti-capitalists that beating up on Mr. Smith because you think he was just another greed-head will make you look goofy as he’s well known for his belief that accumulating wealth and material goods won’t make you happy.

Besides inventing modern economics, he also explored morality and ethics. He wrote a book titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments that is still highly regarded. Incidentally, both it and The Wealth of Nations were best sellers in their day and literally changed the world.  

Adam Smith wanted to figure out what the optimal system was for a free people to attain whatever level of economic security they thought was necessary and appropriate to keep the wolf from the door. He also warned the world about crony capitalism and rent-seeking, two of the monsters currently attempting to strangle America to death. 

Although he was financially quite successful, he quietly and discreetly gave away most of his money and lived simply. I highly recommend P.J. O’Rourke’s, "On The Wealth of Nations”. Mr. O’Rourke was not an economist, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He was, however, very smart, very funny, and lived in the real world. I highly recommend any of his books, essays, and articles.

“Economic progress depends upon a trinity of individual prerogatives: pursuit of self-interest, division of labor, and freedom of trade,” says O’Rourke, stating the fundamentals of Smith’s thought. 

{That’s it? That’s all it takes for a country to be prosperous? Everdamnbody? I find that hard to believe.} 

Well, more or less, Dana The rule of law is also an essential component if you think that it’s important that everdamnbody should have to play by the same rules and that cheats and bullies should be spanked.  

Disclaimer: I’m a former, unapologetic, unrepentant wild-eyed free marketeer and libertarian who seems to be getting more and more conservative and nationalistic with each passing year in an effort to figure out how to mitigate the negative impacts of the global economy on my fellow Deplorables. 

However, capitalism has provided us with a level of prosperity that almost everyone who lived prior to about 1850 or so could only dream of. So I strongly disagree with the tendency of well-meaning (or otherwise) progressives, socialists, and communists to frequently use the word capitalist as an epithet. 

I describe myself as a sorta/kinda or bleeding heart libertarian (BHL), primarily because I’m all for the rationally designed safety net I mentioned earlier. Many libertarians think that’s wrong-headed or impossible. 

Also, there are political philosophers loose in the world who promote something they call BHL but some use terms like social justice and anti-racism, words, and concepts, that as currently defined by many, I have significant problems with. 

{What's that got to do with the history of the world?}

I guess it's a highly opinionated history of the word given the next three paragraphs. 

Communism, in spite of its adherent's claim that it would work if ever done properly, is an obvious dead end, often literally, as the 80 to 100 million bodies piled up in the last century in its name would seem to indicate. 

Socialism is a great idea, all we have to do is change human nature first and lock up all the screwballs like me that are obsessed with personal freedom. Progressivism and/or democratic socialism, or how to have your cake and eat it tooism, is the current flavor of the month for the Utopianists of the world. 

Many people want the benefits of a free market combined with a big, juicy welfare state with millions of rules and unionized bureaucrats, but someone else, preferably the evil rich, should pay the bill. Unfortunately, there just aren't nearly enough of them.

Back to Adam Smith. Smith’s work contradicted a widely held belief of his time, mercantilism. This is the belief that a nation’s wealth is determined by how much gold, silver, cash, ginormous TVs, etc. it can accumulate, after all, there’s only so much wealth to go around, right?

Therefore, you should export for the cash and block, or at least penalize, imports. This view of the world, which currently is enjoying a comeback, leads otherwise clear-thinking people to believe in the Boarding House Pie Fallacy.  

Say you're living in a boarding house (look it up, kids). It’s dinner time and Mrs. McGillicuddy is serving up her famous caramel-apple pie for dessert. Since there’s only so much pie to go around, and fat Freddie's at the table, it behooves everyone to employ a strategery that will ensure an equitable portion of pie. 

Mr. Smith (no relation to the Mrs. Smith of Mrs. Smith's Pies) contends that boarding house wisdom has limited applicability. 

There’s an easier and much more effective way to get what you want — that has the added benefit of not having to impose high tariffs (which begat high prices) and over-regulate anyone — the pursuit of self-interest, division of labor, and freedom of trade. Skilfully employed, these three ensure that everyone can have their own pie. 

Stay tuned.

(To be continued...)

Poppa loves you,
Have an OK day

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