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Homo Economicus - No relation of Homo Sapiens!   Share:  
Thrust of argument: Cillian Doyle writes 'It's a widely held view today (but by no means uncontested) that economics is a value free science of choice, detached from any kind of moral concerns. But this is not how it started out. On the contrary, it began life within the humanities as a subsection of moral philosophy - no less, after which time it shifted to the social sciences as it attempted to apply the scientific method, and today through its use of complex (and often entirely inapplicable) mathematical/statistical modelling, it has pretensions of joining the hard sciences.

But this contemporary lack of moral/ethical concern would outrage many of those who are considered its early proponents, such as the enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith. Smith, the man considered to be economics' founding father, is the hero of Conservatives as the supposed champion of the free market, largely through his notion of the 'Invisible Hand'. The 'Invisible Hand' is a metaphor for the supposed unintended social benefits, which arise in a market economy from individuals acting self-interestedly.

But this is a highly selective interpretation of Smith, one that is quite at odds with the general thrust of his work, which stated the importance of things like banking regulations and progressive taxation. Hardly the usual stuff that conservatives advocate for!

Smith condemned the elites of his day - the 'masters of mankind' - for their 'vile maxim', namely 'All for ourselves and nothing for other people'. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the kind of greed (or self-interest), that many claim to discern from his work. What's more, he stated quite clearly that 'to restrain our selfish, and indulge our benevolent affections constitutes the perfection of human nature'. Does this sound like a man who supposedly prioritised selfishness above all else?

Yet Smith's 'Invisible Hand' is the bedrock of mainstream economics. It's the rationale for the kind of neoliberal policies that have been aggressively pursued since the time of Reagan and Thatcher. It's also underpins these so called 'reforms' that the Troika are demanding in Greece, like the privatisations of their ports and airports.'
Direction of resistance / implied resistance: Doyle, like Chomsky, points out that people make something out of the Invisible hand which isn't really there.


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Removal of resistance: Chomsky also seems to feel Smith was naive in putting faith in this notion - which I suppose is really just putting faith in a kind of luck. It's absurd. When market forces break down, there needs to be a clear, defined, transparent process for redressing that. Unification: I don't think I can formulate a strong opinion about the concept until I have read Smith's Wealth of Nations myself and that's one fuck of a long work, so don't hold your breath waiting for my views on it. My views on the notion as put forward by Chomsky and even Doyle there - is that actually bankers create what Buffet calls 'weapons of mass financial destruction' (I think) and that sooner or later that is bound to be put to the use of vanquishing the corrupt banking framework and replacing it, by means of overpowering it with its own weaponry. Perhaps in some ways that coincides with this invisible hand concept, at least the one Chomsky feels Smith actually describes.

The clear disparity between Smith's modern advocates and the truth of his writing as shown by Chomsky, Hedges, Doyle and many more - is less interesting to methane whether or not Smith's faith in human nature, despite his observation that the 'elites' were a bunch of selfish good for nothings, was based on empirical evidence witnessed himself. Perhaps in his descriptions of what happens to people stuck in mind numbing jobs are based on witnessing certain psychological aspects of certain people for whatever reason.

The system we have today isn't going to last. However it changes, the future will be one where the arrogant assumptions about knowledge, intellect and language which have been a terrifying and prominent characteristic of our time are beyond derision and are completely driven out of our lives by both shame and a more positive thing - something to do with the joy of being cleverer, being stronger, having a better life, giving love in a better way, receiving love in a better way - the sort of thing only people like Freddie Mercury could articulate 25 years ago but now so many more people can.
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