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Friday, October 5th, 2001

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глобализация – это “распространение во всемирном масштабе регулируемой Западом информации и средств развлечения, которые оказывают соответствующий эффект на ценности тех мест, куда эта информация проникает”.

“Мы построили культуру, базирующуюся на массовых развлечениях и массовом самоудовлетворении… Культурные сигналы передаются через Голливуд и Макдоналдс по всему миру – и они подрывают основы других обществ… в отличие от обычных завоевателей мы не удовлетворяемся подчинением прочих: мы настаиваем на том, чтобы нас имитировали”.

While reading Brian Easton's excellent book “In Stormy Seas”, which contains a discussion of Smith's economic philosophy, I checked out the authenticity of the popular version of Adam Smith's famous “Invisible Hand” metaphor. The passage that was taught to a whole generation of economists, including Easton, is in fact a parody of Smith's 1776 text, written in 1948 by reknown American economist Paul Samuelson.


In book 4 chapter 2 of “The Wealth of Nations”, Smith was arguing that foreign trade is the least beneficial form of economic activity. Smith's (but not Samuelson’s) invisible hand directed individuals to favour the domestic rather than the international economy, even on occasions when the profits to be gained from international trade were higher.


Smith opposed trade protection, not because he favoured international laissez-faire, but because he believed the invisible guiding hand would render protection of domestic economies unnecessary. He believed that humans did not need the means of protection in order to achieve the goals of protectionism. His central ethic was that of patriotism.

I would like to develop two ethical themes here.

The first is that of truthfulness. There is no ethical justification for either economists or capitalists presenting distorted versions of the writings of dead authorities such as Adam Smith. There are academic conventions governing the paraphrasing of others’ writings, and an ethical scholar will follow those conventions. While new right economists and business rationalists are by no means the only parties who fail to acknowledge their selective cropping of works from such sources as Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”, the fact that such distortion is not uncommon among zealous reformers leads me to doubt that the “ethical dimension” has been uppermost in minds of the architects of our post-1984 reforms.

The second theme relates to the meaning of the concept of self-interest.

The most extreme sect who trace their ideas back to Adam Smith are the so-called “objectivist” followers of the late Ayn Rand. The most well-known promoter of objectivism in New Zealand is Lindsay Perigo, broadcaster and spiritual leader of the Libertarianz Party.

The objectivists create a dualism, whereby human nature is seen as either selfish or altruistic. Altruism as a strategy for human behaviour, plays the role of a straw man in objectivist thought. It is presented as unrealistic, naive, foolish, and socially counterproductive. Altruism, in that context, means making oneself worse off in order to make someone else better off. The objectivists support selfishness, both because it is seen as the only alternative to altruism, and because they interpret Smith’s invisible hand as being a general mechanism by which individual unconcern for social outcomes creates social harmony and economic efficiency.


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