Monday, November 28, 2022

A different look at Adam Smith

I read an interesting review article over the weekend about Adam Smith on the New York Review of Books (via Libby from my local library). I haven't read any Adam Smith for almost 50 years (back in high school), but maybe I should take another look. Here's a brief little snippet that I found interesting:
Once we enter society and start trading with one another, Smith thought, material goods take on a social meaning. Now we are as concerned with how those goods make us appear to others as we are with the goods themselves. Once we enter an economy with others, which is the only economy there is, we cease to think and act in a strictly economic sense. When “everyone began to look at everyone else and to wish to be looked at himself,” wrote Rousseau, “public esteem acquired a price.” Smith’s theory is an attempt to make sense of that price.
Seems there's a lot more going on than I remembered (and than most people talk about when they discuss Adam Smith). The above quotation should make the Chicago school of economists recalculate. They assume a Robinson Crusoe (article's words) approach: No societal pressure, therefore a person will make a logical decision. When's the last time someone did that!!? Right, Robinson Crusoe, but even he was influenced by his cultural background (I know, he's a literary figure, but the point stands).

If you can access the article via Libby, I recommend it; otherwise, try interlibrary loan (an independent scholar's best friend!).

By the way, the book reviewed is Being Me Being You: Adam Smith and Empathy, by Samuel Fleischacker, University of Chicago Press, 216 pp., $105.00; $35.00 (paper). The paperback is actually affordable!

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