Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 21, 2019

in Adam Smith, Hubris and humility, Man of System, Philosophy of Freedom, Trade

… is from page 7 of Thomas Sowell’s 1979 paper “Adam Smith in Theory and Practice,” which is Chapter 1 in Adam Smith and Modern Political Economy, (Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr., ed., 1979) (footnotes deleted):

Smith not only rejected the policies and practices of the mercantilists, their concept of wealth, and of the nation, he also approached the whole problem of order in the world from a different perspective. The mercantilists were part of a long tradition – still with us today – which assumes that there would be chaos in the absence of a premeditated order imposed by the wise few on the foolish many. During the centuries through which this tradition has endured, the basis for the designs of the few has ranged from the divine right of kings to the inspired ideals of revolutionaries, but the various versions of this tradition incorporate similar assumptions about human beings and about the reasoning process. Smith had very modest expectations concerning people and the power of sheer reasoning to impose itself on a complex system of changing relationships. Yet he saw no chaos in the absence of such heroic feats of the intellect and will. Human society evolved its own balances, much like the ecological systems of nature. That balance reflected the desires and experience of the many rather than the inspiration of the few. All general principles were formed from “experience and induction,” not from scholastic abstractions, “artificial definitions,” and elaborate technicalities, which were capable only of “extinguishing whatever degree of good sense there may be in any moral or metaphysical doctrine.” In short, prosperity and progress would come, not from the brilliance of an elite, but from knowledge and experience that were widely diffused. In this context, the attempt of political “leadership” to impose its schemes on the economy were both uncalled for and harmful.

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