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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 335 of the original edition of Edwin Cannan’s 1927 collection, An Economist’s Protest; specifically, it’s from an essay – “Adam Smith on Twentieth-Century Finance  ” – that  Cannan contributed, marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Adam Smith, to the June 1923 issue of Economica; the bulk of this quotation is a ‘quotation’ that Cannan (who was a great Smith scholar) imagines Smith would have written had he, Smith, been around to observe the state of economics in 1923 (links added):

We can picture his [Smith’] somewhat contemptuous tolerance of “the very ingenious speculations of Mr. Jevons, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Edgeworth and others, who have introduced a sort of algebra or geometry into the science of political economy.  The followers of that system are very numerous; and as men are fond of appearing to understand what surpasses the comprehension of ordinary people, the cypher, as it may be called, in which they have concealed, rather than exposed, their doctrine, has perhaps contributed not a little to increase the number of its admirers.  While it has been of scarce any service to the statesman and has done little to provide either a plentiful subsistence for the people or a sufficient revenue for the sovereign, it has at least given rise to much thought and speculation among the youth at the universities, more especially at that of Cambridge, which in my time was sunk in a torpor, no less profound, I believe, than that of Oxford.”

Those of us who have read carefully much of Adam Smith’s works, and have studied his life, can well imagine Smith actually writing the above, and in that precise style, were Smith still alive at the age of 200.


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