Notes on Adam Smith

Two things.

A. Adam Smith used the invisible hand metaphor once in the Wealth of Nations. It was not a central concept but a central metaphor. Smith used a number of these metaphors to describe what he saw happening around him, but this is not to say that it is the same as a concept. We need to focus, not on the metaphor, but the meaning and the sense that he was trying to convey.

B. The sentences before the phrase, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest” are extremely important,

In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.

Cooperation my comrades. Cooperation.

First published Jul 26, 2011