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Thursday March 7th 2019Tim Candler9

 

    The Merriam-Webster definition of a blog suggests that a blog is: a website that contains personal reflections, comments and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer. No mention of ranting, raving, irrational thought process pandering for likes and subscribers, a total absence of peer review, and nothing at all about blogging and the internet generally being a playground for the Devil and his demons. Interesting thing about Noah Webster, in his attempt to standardize the English language as it was used in the Americas he decided that in order to get his mind around the etymology of a great many words as they had come to be used by the English language in the course of the language's development in the Americas he'd have to learn 26 languages. His American Dictionary of the English Language took him twenty years of work to achieve a formal understanding of 70,000 words. In 1828 at the age of 70 he published his dictionary, which contained around 12,000 brand new English words that had never appeared in a dictionary before. Skunk and the plant Squash were two of those new words, and amazingly very few copies were sold. Well worth noting also, Noah Webster was of the opinion that the more traditional formal spelling of English words was far too complicated, which is why in American English it's color, not colour. And little did he know, that for a person who had been educated in the school systems of England, and who might have spent many hours in spelling detention, this new spelling of words pretty much put the kybosh on any capacity that a person might have been able to painfully develop in the area of spelling. It's also true that any flaw in the erudition and brilliance of a blogger is either someone else's fault or his or her own pathetic and deliberate attempt to appeal to the venality of others. All of which is a round about way of saying that with us people, outside of our fevered dreams, there is no such place as Free Market, never has been, never will be. And, I'll claim, that if Adam Smith were a young man today, he'd have advanced his Theory of Moral Sentiments by exploring social media rather than through an understanding of Markets that emerged from His Wealth of Nations a book inspired by the collapse of a Scottish Bank in his home town. He studied Moral Philosophy in Glasgow, Scotland, were he was awarded a scholarship usually reserved for future Clergymen to go to college at Oxford University in England. Given his admiration for the atheist Hume, pretty certain his interpretation of the bible wasn't literal, nor did he anticipate the literal truth being possible this side of the empirical process which is basically "if you can't demonstrate it best not to assume you're right." As a teacher Adam Smith gave lectures on Rhetoric and he became a professor of Logic at Glasgow University.

 

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     In Adam Smith's argument, the Free Market was an ideal form and he suggested that out of this ideal form an invisible hand might effectively guide the use of resources toward the service of all of us and by so doing it would remove that responsibility of market guidance from the always suspect, unsportsmanlike and regularly impure motives of us people with respect to wealth as it was created through the exchange of goods and services in a market. Nor was Adam Smith some random blogger like me, he was following the tradition of the learned, well  tutored he was positing an ideal form on the understanding that it was a rhetorical device through which to extol the value of one end of a continuum of possible markets, which in his time were laden by a bunch of regulations imposed by church, politicians, guilds and Crown Monopolies. In the late 1700's what passed for a Market would today have been deemed high order tyranny except possibly by the very wealthy. Smith experienced a banking crisis in Scotland that he read as the abject failure of the markets as they were, the results of which were catastrophic for young old, rich and poor. He understood the informality of markets, the living nature of markets, the emergence of norms, custom, relationships and adherence to tradition in markets, it wasn't all about widgets and the universal application of supply and demand graphs. Adam Smith would have argued if you bail out a bank for the unwarranted risks it might have taken in the pursuit of profit there's no way the market itself, free or otherwise, would discipline the behavior of the bank, rather the probability of a bank being bailed out would simply be added to a Banker's appetite for unwarranted risk taking. So if you're going to bail out a bank for it's errors, instead of just letting the bank fold as a lesson to other banks, best to make certain the disciplining of the bank's behavior came from somewhere, preferably somewhere that doesn't require a catastrophe for young old, rich and poor. Before Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments in which he proposed that we people come into the world without a book full of morals and through the course of our lives we develop our idea of morality, or our sentiment which is defined as feeling, affection, opinion, by seeking the approval of and taking our cue from others. The freer we all are, he argued, the more likely our notions of moral behavior would achieve a standard which instead of being stuck in some kind of obstinate, reactionary rut wholly unsuited to a rapidly changing world and means of production that would serve us more fulsomely. There's argument of course, but he figured on developing this theory of sentiments through an understanding of markets. How they worked, the results of how they worked and how they might be designed or permitted to work better. Adam Smith was a liberal in the classic sense, a combination of civil liberties, faith in the rule of law and economic freedom, all elements working in a unison. And while we all become rabid around what free might be, worth noting that apparently Adam Smith was very absent minded and he talked to himself a lot.

 

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