29 December 2014

He Said It: Binning

"Hills, Seas, Mountains, Rivers, Sun & Moon, & Clouds, Men & Beasts, Angels and Devils, all of them are acted, moved, and inclined according to his pleasure, all of them are about his work indeed, as the result of all in the end shal make it appear, & are servants at his command, by going where he bids go, and coming where he bids come, led by an invisible hand, though in the mean time they knew it not, but thinks they are about their own businesse . . . . Godly men who knows his Will and loves it, are led by it willingly, for they yeeld themselves up to his disposall: but wicked men who have contrary Wills of their own, they can gain no more by resisting, but to be drawn along with it."

--Hugh Binning (1627-53), The common principiles [sic] of Christian religion (Glasgow, 1666), 173. Quoted in Peter Harrison, "Adam Smith and the History of the Invisible Hand," Journal of the History of Ideas 72, 1 (January 2011): 43 (reprinted here exactly as it appears in Harrison's text; bold supplied)

22 December 2014

He Said It: Machiavelli

"Thus, since a prince is compelled of necessity to know well how to use the beast, he should pick the fox and the lion, because the lion does not defend itself from snares and the fox does not defend itself from wolves. So one needs to be a fox to recognize snares and a lion to frighten the wolves. Those who stay simply with the lion do not understand this. A prudent lord, therefore, cannot observe faith[*], nor should he, when such observance turns against him, and the causes that made him promise have been eliminated. And if all men were good, this teaching would not be good; but because they are wicked and do not observe faith with you, you also do not have to observe it with them." 

--Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 2nd ed., Harvey C. Mansfield, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 69

*The phrase "observe faith" and its cognates is rendered as "keep one's word" by other translators. 

15 December 2014

He Said It: Smith

"I mean not, however, by any thing which I have here said, to throw any odious imputation upon the general character of the servants of the East India company, and much less upon that of any particular persons. It is the system of government, the situation in which they are placed, that I mean to censure; not the character of those who have acted in it. They acted as their situation naturally directed, and they who would have clamoured the loudest against them would, probably, not have acted better themselves." 

--Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), IV.vii.c.107

[H/T: Mike Munger]

01 December 2014

He Said It: Baier

"Moral talk is often rather repugnant. Leveling moral accusations, expressing moral indignation, passing moral judgment, allotting the blame, administering moral reproof, justifying oneself, and, above all, moralizing--who can enjoy such talk? And who can like or trust those addicted to it? The most outspoken critics of their neighbors' morals are usually men (or women) who wish to ensure that nobody should enjoy the good things in life which they themselves have missed and men who confuse the right and the good with their own advancement. When challenged, they can substantiate their charges only by fine phrases. [...]

"Suppose it is granted that [moral] sacrifices are necessary. Who is to say which individual or group ought to make them? Everyone is busily demanding that others should shoulder a burden, deny themselves this indulgence, or suffer that hardship, but let someone ask why a certain person should make a given sacrifice and usually he will be offered only bogus reasons. [...]

"But, really, how crude, how beside the point, how unconvincing all this is--particularly, when we compare it with the precision and the certainty of the natural sciences. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that by comparison with natural science, morality is a primitive, outmoded, inexact sort of enterprise. Its continuing popularity seems to be based largely on people's disappointment at being less well equipped than their neighbors, on envy of others who have succeeded where they have failed, on the instinct of revenge, and on superstitious hopes and fears that the Lazaruses of this world will be in the bosom of Abraham, while the men successful on earth will be tormented in hell." 

--Kurt Baier, The Moral Point of View: A Rational Basis of Ethics (New York: Random House, 1967), 3-5. 

07 November 2014

Breaking News: The End of Socialism

My new book, The End of Socialism, has just been published by Cambridge University Press. From the book jacket: 

"Is socialism morally superior to other systems of political economy, even if it faces practical difficulties? In The End of Socialism, James R. Otteson explores socialism as a system of political economy--that is, from the perspectives of both moral philosophy and economic theory. He examines the exact nature of the practical difficulties socialism faces, which turn out to be greater than one might initially suppose, and then asks whether the moral ideals it champions--equality, fairness, and community--are important enough to warrant attempts to overcome these difficulties nonetheless, especially in light of the alleged moral failings of capitalism. The result is an examination of the 'end of socialism,' both in the sense of the moral goals it proposes and in the results of its unfolding logic."

Just in time for your holiday gift-giving! 

He Said It: Hume

"[N]othing is so improving to the temper as the study of the beauties, either of poetry, eloquence, music, or painting. They give a certain elegance of sentiment to which the rest of mankind are strangers. The emotions which they excite are soft and tender. They draw off the mind from the hurry of business and interest; cherish reflection; dispose to tranquillity; and produce an agreeable melancholy, which, of all dispositions of the mind, is the best suited to love and friendship."

--David Hume, "Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion" (1741)

31 October 2014

They Said It: Smith and Yandle

"As the philosopher David Hume said most famously in his magnum opus, A Treatise of Human Nature, 'Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.' Translated into our narrative (and southern vernacular), he might well have said, 'Any Bootlegger worth his salt better make a Baptist appeal if he hopes to bring home the bacon.'" 

--Adam Smith and Bruce Yandle, Bootleggers and Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics (Cato Institute, 2014), 56

19 August 2014

G. A. Cohen vs. Adam Smith on Motivation

"Communal reciprocity is the antimarket principle according to which I serve you not because of what I can get in return by doing so but because you need or want my service, and you, for the same reason, serve me. [...] 

Doctors, nurses, teachers and others do not, or do not comprehensively, gauge what they do in their jobs according to the amount of money they're likely to get as a result, in the way that capitalists and workers in noncaring occupations do. [...] And the reason for the difference is not that carers are made of morally superior clay, but, in good part, the more cognitive reason that their conception of what is to be produced is guided by a conception of human need: market signals are not necessary to decide what diseases to cure or what subjects to teach, nor are they efficient means of deciding that."

--G. A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism? pp. 39 and 59-60

"In every profession, the exertion of the greater part of those who exercise it, is always in proportion to the necessity they are under of making that exertion. This necessity is greatest with those to whom the emoluments of their profession are the only source from which they expect their fortune, or even their ordinary revenue and subsistence. In order to acquire this fortune, or even to ge this subsistence, they must, in the course of a year, execute a certain quantity of work of a known value; and, where the competition is free, the rivalship of competitors, who are all endeavouring to justle one another out of employment, obliges every man to endeavour to execute his work with a certain degree of exactness. The greatness of the objects which are to be acquired by success in some particular professions may, no doubt, sometimes animate the exertion of a few men of extraordinary spirit and ambition. Great objects, however, are evidently not necessary in order to occasion the greatest exertions. Rivalship and emulation render excellency, even in mean professions, an object of ambition, and frequently occasion the very greatest exertions. Great objects, on the contrary, alone and unsupported by the necessity of application, have seldom been sufficient to occasion any considerable exertion." 

--Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, V.i.f.4

28 April 2014

He Said It: Krugman

"The last 15 years have been a golden age of innovation in international economics. I must somewhat depressingly conclude, however, that this innovative stuff is not a priority for today's undergraduates. In the last decade of the 20th century, the essential things to teach students are still the insights of Hume and Ricardo. That is, we need to teach them that trade deficits are self-correcting and that the benefits of trade do not depend on a country having an absolute advantage over its rivals. If we can teach undergrads to wince when they hear someone talk about 'competitiveness,' we will have done our nation a great service." 

--Paul Krugman, "What Do Undergrads Need to Know About Trade?" The American Economic Review 83, 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred and Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1993), p. 26

15 January 2014

He Said It: Stiglitz

"At their best, markets have played a central role in the stunning increases in productivity and standards of living in the past two hundred years--increases that far exceeded those of the previous two millennia.

"But government has also played a major role in these advances, a fact that free-market advocates typically fail to acknowledge. On the other hand, markets can also concentrate wealth, pass environmental costs on to society, and abuse workers and consumers. For all these reasons, it is plain that markets must be tamed and tempered to make sure they work to the benefit of most citizens. And that has to be done repeatedly, to ensure that they continue to do so."

--Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, "The Price of Inequality" (June 11, 2012)

14 January 2014

They Said It: The Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention

"We dissent, secondly, because the powers vested in Congress by this [proposed United States] constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated government, which from the nature of things will be an iron banded despotism, as nothing short of the supremacy of despotic sway could connect and govern these United States under one government." 

--from the Address of the Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention, December 12, 1787 (italics in the original)

08 January 2014

He Said It: Mallock

"Socialism may be worthless as a scheme, but it is not meaningless as a symptom. Rousseau's theory of the origin of society, of the social contract, and of a cure for all the social evils by a return to a state of nature, had, as we all know now, no more relation to fact than the dreams of an illiterate drunkard; but they were not without value as a vague and symbolical expression of certain evils from which the France of his day was suffering." 

--William Hurrell Mallock (1849-1923), A Critical Examination of Socialism (1907), chap. 16