Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hoisted From Comments: Colin Danby on Duncan Foley on Adam Smith

Colin Danby writes:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Department of "Huh!?": There's been a lot of good work in recent years and if anything the consensus is that the earlier characterization [largely based on Schumpeter] of the [Adam Smith] "problem" was mistaken. Both Andres and I have urged readings which not only reconcile the two texts but use them to illuminate each other. Going on about the "problem" becomes an excuse for not reading more carefully, as is the long tradition of talking down Smith's originality (which has a lot to do with the fact that unlike Stuart he was a moral philosopher and thus capable of much more thoughtful social theory).

To pick up on Andres' always-perspicacious points, there are several arguments going on at once here. There's (1) a larger argument in the background about the ethics of commercial interactions and "market society" in general; (2) an argument about the reification of analytical boundaries between economy and non-economy; and (3) an argument (or several) about how to read Smith. The problem is that Smith-bashing is used to score points in (1) and (2) which could be made much better and more cleanly without resort to tendentious reading, tendentious biographizing, and tendentious descriptions of the history of economic thought.

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