Smith, Adam

(1723-1790) An 18th-century Scottish economist, moral philosopher, and author (known for ‘The Wealth of Natons‘ in 1776) who is considered the father of modern economics. The recorded history of Smith’s life begins at this baptism on June 5, 1723 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland; his exact birthdate is undocumented. He was raised there by his widowed mother. Smith attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland at age 13, studying moral philosophy. Later, Smith enrolled in postgraduate studies at the prestigious Balliol College at Oxford University.

After returning to Scotland, Smith held a series of public lectures at the University of Edinburgh. The success of his lecture series helped him earn a professorship at Glasgow University in 1751. He eventually earned the position of Chair of Moral Philosophy. During his years spent teaching and working at Glasgow, Smith worked on getting some of his lectures published. His book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” was eventually published in 1759 book.

Smith moved to France in 1763 to accept a more remunerative position as a personal tutor to the stepson of Charles Townshend, an amateur economist and the future Chancellor of the Exchequer. During his time in France, Smith counted the philosophers David Hume and Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin as contemporaries.

In Smith’s day, people saw national wealth in terms of a country’s stock of gold and silver. Importing goods from abroad was seen as damaging because it meant that this wealth must be given up to pay for them; exporting goods was seen as good because these precious metals came back.

So countries maintained a vast network of controls to prevent this metal wealth draining out – taxes on imports, subsidies to exporters, and protection for domestic industries. The same protectionism ruled at home too. Cities prevented artisans from other towns moving in to ply their trade; manufacturers and merchants petitioned the king for protective monopolies; labour-saving devices were banned as a threat to existing producers.

Smith showed that this vast ‘mercantilist’ edifice was folly. He argued that in a free exchange, both sides became better off. Quite simply, nobody would trade if they expected to lose from it. The buyer profits, just as the seller does. Imports are just as valuable to us as our exports are to others.

Because trade benefits both sides, said Smith, it increases our prosperity just as surely as do agriculture or manufacture. A nation’s wealth is not the quantity of gold and silver in its vaults, but the total of its production and commerce – what today we would call gross national product.

The Wealth of Nations deeply influenced the politicians of the time and provided the intellectual foundation of the great nineteenth-century era of free trade and economic expansion. Even today the common sense of free trade is accepted worldwide, whatever the practical difficulties of achieving it.

Smith had a radical, fresh understanding of how human societies actually work. He realised that social harmony would emerge naturally as human beings struggled to find ways to live and work with each other. Freedom and self-interest need not produce chaos, but – as if guided by an ‘invisible hand’ – order and concord. And as people struck bargains with each other, the nation’s resources would be drawn automatically to the ends and purposes that people valued most highly.

So a prospering social order did not need to be controlled by kings and ministers. It would grow, organically, as a product of human nature. It would grow best in an open, competitive marketplace, with free exchange and without coercion.

The Wealth Of Nations was therefore not just a study of economics but a survey of human social psychology: about life, welfare, political institutions, the law, and morality.

It was not The Wealth Of Nations which first made Smith’s reputation, but a book on ethics, The Theory Of Moral Sentiments. Once again, Smith looks to social psychology to discover the foundation of human morality. Human beings have a natural ‘sympathy’ for others. That enables them to understand how to moderate their behaviour and preserve harmony. And this is the basis of our moral ideas and moral actions.

Some people wonder how the self-interest that drives Smith’s economic system can be squared with the ‘sympathy’ that drive his ethics. Here is his answer:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

In other words, human nature is complex. We are self-interested, but we also like to help others too. Smith’s books are complementary: they show how self-interested human beings can live together peacefully (in the moral sphere) and productively (in the economic).

The Wealth Of Nations is no endorsement of economic greed, as sometimes caricatured. Self-interest may drive the economy, but that is a force for good – provided there is genuinely open competition and no coercion. And it is the poor that economic and social freedom benefits most.

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Washington, Booker T.

(1856-1915) was the most important political and educational leader of the African-American community 1890-1915. He was the most important black leader of the Progressive Era, and his dedication to efficiency set the goals for the black community. He is most famous for his autobiography, Up from Slavery, his leadership of black conservative business and religious leaders, his founding of the Tuskegee Institute, and his emphasis on self-help and education as the cure for poverty and the second class status of blacks in America.

His “Atlanta Exposition” speech of 1895 appealed to middle class whites across the South, asking them to give blacks a chance to work and develop separately, while implicitly accepting Jim Crow and promising not to demand the vote. White leaders across the North, from politicians to industrialists, from philanthropists to churchmen, enthusiastically supported Washington, as did most middle class blacks and some white Southern leaders. Washington built a personal organization, over which he exerted very tight control, that linked like-minded black leaders throughout the nation and in effect spoke for Black America and worked behind the scenes to lessen the impact of segregation. His network fell apart after his death. Meanwhile, a more militant northern group, led by W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP rejected Washington’s self-help and demanded political activism, referring to the speech dismissively as “The Atlanta Compromise”. The critics were marginalized until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, at which point more radical black leaders rejected Washington’s philosophy and demanded federal civil rights laws.

Washington is held in high regard by conservatives, both white and black. As C. Vann Woodward concluded, “The businessman’s gospel of free enterprise, competition, and laissez faire never had a more loyal exponent.Read more at Conservapedia…

Rand, Ayn

(1905-82) Controversial US author (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged) born in Russia and an eyewitness to the horrors inflicted by the Bolshevik Revolution. By the time she emigrated to America in 1925, her core beliefs were established. In the foreword to her first novel, We the Living, Rand wrote: “When, at the age of twelve, at the time of the Russian Revolution, I first heard the Communist principle that Man must exist for the sake of the State, I perceived that this was the essential issue, that this principle was evil, and that it could lead to nothing but evil regardless of any methods, details, decrees, policies, promises and pious platitudes.” Free market capitalism, she believed, was the only system consonant with man’s rational nature. While a strong advocate of capitalism and individual rights (including property rights), Rand also advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion; supported rational and ethical egoism and rejected altruism.

Her breakthrough novel was The Fountainhead (1943), which tells the story of the idealistic young architect Howard Roark. The theme of The Fountainheadas explained by Rand, was “individualism and collectivism, not in politics, but in man’s soul.” Initially rejected by several publishers, the novel went on to become an international bestseller and a film.

Her 1957 follow-up, Atlas Shruggedportrayed a United States on the edge of collapse as a result of socialist and collectivist policies. The novel proved to be enormously influential and stunningly prescient. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the creeping socialist policies that followed caused the sales of Atlas Shrugged to spike. To anyone who had read the dystopian novel, it all seemed depressingly familiar. (American Thinker & Wikipedia)