Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010

Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010
Finalist for society, politics, history blogs



Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Magandang umaga! Good morning from Manila!

As one can see in the title, Adam Smith’s ideas about political economy were unoriginal or copycat. So I’m going to articulate some notes about the matter. This may come as a shocker to the devotees of Smith and fanatical ideologues of liberal or free market capitalism, but it had to be accepted. This is a matter of fact, not of speculation or libel.

This note is not intended to demean Smith nor to denigrate those whose actions are copycat, far from it. Doing copycat items is among the pathways to success, this lesson is greatly stressed most specially among marketing professionals. If one cannot succeed through innovative or original ideas and practices, then take the ‘copycat way’. Network marketing had already perfected the ‘copycat way’ in fact, by way of optimizing the principle of duplication (duplicate those presentation lines and themes before your niche customers or clients).

There are people who have this wrong notion that Smith invented liberal capitalism, and this has to be corrected. A simple knowledge of economic history will do. Having taught economic history at the Philippine’s premier university (U. Philippines) for some time, I know as a matter of fact that couples of influential writers emerged in the theoretic domain—who were focused on economic questions—before Smith appeared in the social landscape. Smith appeared when physiocracy, to which Smith properly belongs, was already making waves in France through the works of such gentlemen as Quesnay and Mirabeau.

But as one can see, Smith was a Scot, of the British Isle, and right in his own backyard there were couples of gentlemen too who wrote voluminously on the subject of political economy, from a vantage point that was already departing from the mercantilism of the previous couple of centuries. The departure concerned the sources of wealth, where the same thinkers opined that the ‘sphere of production’ had to be emphasized more than the ‘sphere of exchange’ which the mercantilists, notably Thomas Mun, discoursed on.

Some representative thinkers who preceded Smith were the following:

· Sir William Petty (1623-87): Considered the founder of political economy. A charter member of the Royal Society.

· John Locke, Sir Dudley North, David Hume, David Hume: Further propounded on basic principles of political economy. E.g. rent, trade, role of government.

· Richard Cantillon: His book Essai sur la nature du commerce en general (1755) was “the most systematic statement of economic principles” (E. Roll, A History of Economic Thought).

· Sir James Steuart: Wrote the voluminous Principles of Political Economy (1767), which was among the first textbooks in economics of that time.

· Honore Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau: Enlightenment thinker, involved with the French revolution, a political moderate who opined that modernizing France better follow the US model of industrialization path. He influenced many younger physiocrates.

· Francois Quesnay: Formally a fellow of the ‘economistes’ or ‘physiocrates’, was known for his popularization of the ‘tableau economique’ (economic table, title of his book), bringing political economy closer to empirical science.

· Jean C.M.V. de Gournay: Another eminent fellow of the ‘physiocrates’, who collaborated with Quesnay in advancing principles of political economy.

· Nicolas Baudeau : Wrote Introduction a la philosophie économique (1771).

· G. F. Le Trosne: wrote De l'ordre social (1777).

· André Morellet: “ best known by his controversy with Galiani on the freedom of the grain trade during the Flour War” (quoted from Wikipedia).

· Mercier Larivière and Dupont de Nemours: Also eminent members of the ‘physiocrates’.

Smith actually lived in Paris during his youthful heydays, where he stayed with the equally youthful Duke of Buccleuch circa 1764-1766. The Parisian exposure was Smith’s way of baptism into the illustrious physiocrats’ thought streams, and the rest was history.

So to my fellows in the professional world and this planet who continue to churn thoughts that Smith was the ‘originator of capitalism’, please rethink your opinions. Historical facts do not the least substantiate your thesis. Rather, what is right is that Smith brought political economy even closer to empirical science than ever, and his Wealth of Nations was a monumental effort during his time to construct a text book on the subject that was considerably a scientific material more than philosophy (ethics, metaphysics) though Smith still wrote philosophical treatises within the ambit of the methods of philosophy.

I need not belabor the point that Smith didn’t invent empiricism. Just by reflecting on the names above, one can see the names of giant figures in British empiricism (e.g Hume, Locke), who themselves took off from intellectual giants that preceded them (e.g. Francis Bacon).

So, please disabuse yourselves of Smith as ‘originator’ of anything. He never even boasted of originating anything at all. Rather, he systematized thought constructs that were already prevalent during his heyday. The purposes of his economic doctrines were already explained in some other articles writ by me.

[Philippines, 22 August 2008]

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