Sunday, May 22, 2005

Adam Smith and the Duff Factor

Adam Smith seems to be one of David Duff's favorite theorist.

The following is a reply to David Duff's recent comments. I believe that our conversation has been very fruitful and wanted to share a bit of it:

Hi Duff. I agree that Adam Smith did not invent capitalism, however your statement that he “described what was going on around him” is incorrect. It is well known that Smith was an apologist for the capitalist and that in many ways he was performing CYA to secure his stellar academic career while he witnessed the incredibly unjust process of primitive accumulation taking place all around him, especially in Scotland.

In fact, Marx was the person who “described what was going on around him.” Additionally, compared to Smith, Marx describes in far more detail the math behind capitalism. Marx understood that capitalism produces more evil than good and further he developed a set of tools for analyzing the mechanics of how the system works. Contrary to your previous statements, neither Marx nor Marxists invented socialism, it existed previously and independently from his body of work. The Communist Manifesto was not even written until 1848, with socialist groups having formed throughout Europe as early as 1827 (and the socialist form of organization having existed since the dawn of human history).

Marx lived and documented what he came to understand as class struggle. On the other hand, your hero Adam Smith invented political economy as a discipline and labeled it a body of natural laws when in fact it is nothing more than assemblage of speculations and doctrine.

Smith is entirely deductive. Smith generalizes the laws of wealth, not from the phenomena of wealth, but from the phenomena of selfishness. He makes men naturally selfish; he represents them as pursuing wealth for sordid objects, and for the narrowest personal pleasures.

Nevertheless Smith gives us some pertinent insights, for instance: "As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce." – and my favorite “[law], is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Please read Marx’s analysis of Smith in Volume IV, Chapter III of Capital (Marx: Surplus Value) and tell me where Marx goes wrong. Marx understands Smith much better than you or I ever will and does a good job showing Smith’s errors.

Duff, the bourgeoisie revolution brought freedom to many people and changed the world for the better. I believe strongly in the positive results of the American and French Revolutions and the roles they played in bringing down the then-existing aristocracies. Your boogieman, Marx argued this very case many times. But what we see today is that capitalism is the tool of the new aristocracy. The wealth has been reaccumulated to the top, small sellers and buyers, freeholds, farmers, shop owners and common men have no control over their own destinies as we are all essentially slaves to wage labor. This is not what Smith nor Marx had in mind.

Socialism provides an alternative precisely because it offers an achievable system which fits with the demands of a complex society. Duff, if you believe that human nature is not consistent with Socialism, then you must believe that human nature is inconsistent with Christianity as well. I believe you are wrong. People are just as charitable as they are selfish. Given a system that leverages the modes of production for the common good, I believe that people will dedicate their labors to the common good as well. It is what we desire more than anything and ultimately the reason why another world will rise from the ashes of the one created by Capital.

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