Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Adam Smith & the Contemporary World

For those of you who sometimes wonder if there's anything to be learned by studying the works of the great economists, I would direct you to this piece in the Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics. It's by Dr. Amartya Sen, professor of philosophy and economics at Harvard, and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize.

Dr. Sen raises highlights a number of thought-provoking aspects of Adam Smith's work, and relates to the present day. And before you dismiss this as just another piece on The Wealth of Nations, I will again remind you that Smith also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

In the article, Dr. Sen discusses not just prudence, a virtue that Smith described as "useful to the individual"; but Smith's discussion of "qualities most useful to others" - qualities like humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit.

Sen also discusses the ideas that other perspectives provide value by giving us insights into the choices of others without necessarily agreeing with them. "To listen to distant voices, which is part of Adam Smith's exercise of invoking 'the impartial spectator', does not require us to be respectful of every argument that may come from abroad. Willingness to consider an argument proposed elsewhere is very far from a predisposition to accept all such proposals."

I submit, in that respect, Smith may be an early pioneer in the field of institutional economics - seeking to understand what motivates others to choose as they do, whether we approve or disapprove of the choice.

The article is a bit longer than many I recommend here, but I think you will find much of value, if you are at all interested in the link between philosophy and economics, and the link between Smith and the present.

I welcome your thoughts.

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