Adam Smith ging es um mehr als freie Märkte

Am kommenden Sonntag (11. Juni 2023) geht es im Podcast um den schottischen Philosophen Adam Smith, der in diesen Tagen 300 Jahre alt werden würde.
Wir stimmen uns mit einigen Beiträgen ein – heute mit einem aus der FINANCIAL TIMES (FT), der die Frage aufwirft: “Is there more to Adam Smith than free markets?”

  • No one is more widely quoted by people who have not read his work. Even those who have never visited a library, far less opened a copy of The Wealth of Nations, know that Adam Smith extolled the public benefit of individual selfishness and the necessity of maximally free markets, excoriating the malign impact of government intervention in economic matters. They are familiar with his metaphor of ‚the invisible hand‘ and know that it is ‚not from benevolence‘ that the baker provides our daily bread.“ – bto: Das allein ist natürlich zu kritisieren, vor allem von denjenigen, die freien Märkten und dem Kapitalismus kritisch gegenüberstehen.
  • Those who know a little more of Smith know that he was also the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In that work, the central characteristic of moral sensibility is ‚sympathy‘; we must judge our conduct as would an impartial spectator, and must acquire the ability ‚to see ourselves as others see us‘. Nineteenth-century German philosophers formulated ‚das Adam Smith Problem‘. How could the same man be author of a philosophical work in favour of altruism and an economic work in defence of individualism?“ – bto: … einfach, weil man moralisch und ökonomisch richtig handeln kann.
  • While Smith’s thinking obviously developed over the near 20 years between his two defining books, there was no Damascene conversion in which the young idealist philosopher became the older sceptical economist. His moral philosophy was not as benign as the crass description suggests. More importantly, his economics was not as unforgiving as the crude description suggests. The greatest myth is that Wealth was a rightwing tract, and that its author would have heard the noise of the trading floor as music in his ears and regarded the collateralised debt obligation as the epitome of human ingenuity.“ – bto: Wie geschrieben, haben ihn wenige wirklich gelesen und es dient gerne der politisch gewünschten Nachricht.
  • Smith’s misanthropic scepticism extended widely — to business people (‚an order of men . . . who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public‘), to the rich (‚the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches‘), to empire (‚a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers‘), and to statistics (‚I have no great faith in political arithmetic‘).“ – bto: Man mag sich nicht vorstellen, was Smith heute sagen würde…
  • We rely on Smith for the clear formulation of two foundational ideas of economics — the division of labour and the associated mutually beneficial character of exchange. Wealth begins with the productive pin factory, which derived economies of scale and developed specialist capabilities, and the exchange of these capabilities made them sustainable. If one needs reassurance that economics is more than gut instinct, then the contrast between Donald Trump’s naive view of trade and Smith’s more thoughtful one is sufficient reminder.“ – bto: Das ist zutreffend. Und es lohnt sich, auch bei anderen Themen ökonomisch zu denken – was leider bei uns politisch unerwünscht ist.
  • In short, modern humans — uniquely — are productive because they engage in co-operative activity. (…) The division of labour has gone far beyond anything Smith imagined (…) The reason UK gross domestic product per head has risen so much since Smith wrote Wealth is not that we have become more individualistic but that we have become more co-operative.“ – bto: Das gilt natürlich auch auf globaler Ebene.
  • Now the power of the metaphor of the invisible hand is the recognition that such co-ordination is emergent; it does not require a co-ordinator. The production of the Airbus requires a complex mixture of markets and hierarchies. No entrepreneur could go shopping to buy the parts for an Airbus, and the design emerges through the efforts of many, not the direction of a big boss.“ – bto: Es erklärt einfach, warum ein dezentrales Marktsystem immer der Planwirtschaft überlegen ist.
  • Which leads to the question: ‚Why it Matters‘. (…) Smith was writing about a market economy, not what came to be called capitalism, and that there is a difference. Smith would not have enjoyed a visit to a trading floor. And he did understand that a successful market economy requires the legal, social and economic infrastructure that only a strong state can provide. That strong state was only tolerable in an environment of pluralism and democracy sustained by wide mutual trust. And Smith identified many of the ways in which markets go wrong — through crony capitalism, in what we now call rent-seeking, and in the commodification of too much of our social lives. Markets function well only when embedded in strong and supportive social institutions. There is no contradiction between Moral Sentiments and Wealth.“ – bto: Das ist eine wichtige Feststellung, die übrigens auch für den Kapitalismus gilt. Denn auch der wird von den Kapitalisten nicht geliebt. (Anmeldung erforderlich): “Is there more to Adam Smith than free markets?”, 25. Juli 2018