Tag Archives: Adam Smith

O, Adam Smith, Wherefore Art Thou?

29 Sep

Smith, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments:

This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments….We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent.

Smith/Brecht

29 Sep

Adam Smith, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments:

The poor man, on the contrary, is ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow-feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers. He is mortified upon both accounts. For though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obscurity covers us from the daylight of honour and approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, necessarily damps the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the most ardent desire, of human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is in the same obscurity as if shut up in his own hovel….The man of rank and distinction, on the contrary, is observed by all the world. Every body is eager to look at him, and to conceive, at least by sympathy, that joy and exultation with which his circumstances naturally inspire him. His actions are the objects of the public care. Scarce a word, scarce a gesture, can fall from him that is altogether neglected. In a great assembly he is the person upon whom all direct their eyes; it is upon him that their passions seem all to wait with expectation, in order to receive that movement and direction which he shall impress upon them; and if his behaviour is not altogether absurd, he has, every moment, an opportunity of interesting mankind, and of rendering himself the object of the observation and fellow-feeling of every body about him.

Bertolt Brecht, “Mackie Messer” (“Mack the Knife“), Three Penny Opera:

And some are in the darkness
And the others in the light
But you only see those in the light
Those in the darkness you don’t see

But you only see those in the light
Those in the darkness you don’t see

[Und die einen sind im Dunkeln
Und die anderen sind im Licht
Doch man sieht nur die im Lichte
Die im Dunklen sieht man nicht

Doch man sieht nur die im Lichte
Die im Dunklen sieht man nicht]

 

Adam Smith ♥ High Wages

23 Nov

The Wealth of Nations:

The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the effect of increasing wealth, so it is the cause of increasing population. To complain of it, is to lament over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity.

The liberal reward of labour, as it encourages the propagation, so it increases the industry of the common people. The wages of labour are the encouragement of industry, which, like every other human quality, improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives….Where wages are high, accordingly, we shall always find the workmen more active, diligent, and expeditious, than where they are low.”

Adam Smith on the Mobility of Labor v. Capital

3 Oct

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter 10, Part II:

Corporation laws, however, give less obstruction to the free circulation of stock from one place to another than to that of labour. It is everywhere much easier for a wealthy merchant to obtain the privilege of trading in a town corporate, than for a poor artificer to obtain that of working in it.

Same as it ever was.

Adam Smith Was Never an Adjunct

2 Oct

Every single one of the explanations that Adam Smith offers—in Book 1, Chapter 10, Part 1, of The Wealth of Nationsfor the difference in wage rates between various kinds of labor is discomfirmed by the example of adjuncts in the academy.*

Turns out: work that is harder, more disagreeable, more precarious, riskier as a long-term career opportunity, of lower social standing, and that requires more time and training to enter into and more trust from society to perform, does not in fact pay better.

*These explanations have to do with what Smith calls “inequalities arising from the nature of the employments themselves.” These explanations are to be distinguished from those having to do with government policies or the forces of supply and demand.

Classical Liberalism ≠ Libertarianism

25 Sep

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations:

Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters. Thus the law which obliges the masters in several different trades to pay their workmen in money and not in goods, is quite just and equitable.

Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence:

The rich and opulent merchant who does nothing but give a few directions, lives in far greater state and luxury and ease and plenty of all the conveniencies and delicacies of life than his clerks, who do all the business. They too, excepting their confinement, are in a state of ease and plenty far superior to that of the artizan by whose labour these commodities were furnished. The labour of this man too is pretty tollerable; he works under cover protected from the inclemency in the weather, and has his livelyhood in no uncomfortable way if we compare him with the poor labourer. He has all the inconveniencies of the soil and the season to struggle with, is continually exposed to the inclemency of the weather and the most severe labour at the same time. Thus he who as it were supports the whole frame of society and furnishes the means of the convenience and ease of all the rest is himself possessed of a very small share and is buried in obscurity. He bears on his shoulders the whole of mankind, and unable to sustain the load is buried by the weight of it and thrust down into the lowest parts of the earth, from whence he supports all the rest. (emphasis added)

David Petraeus: Voldemort Comes to CUNY

21 Sep

Monday, September 9, was David Petraeus’s first class at CUNY. As he left Macaulay Honors College, where he’s teaching, he was hounded by protesters. It wasn’t pretty; the protesters were angry and they didn’t hold back.

The protesters’ actions attracted national and international media attention—and condemnation. Not just from the usual suspects at Fox but from voices at CUNY as well.

Macaulay Dean Ann Kirschner issued a formal statement on the Macaulay website and then took to her blog in order to further express her dismay:

Before and during Dr. Petraeus’ class, however, a group of protesters demonstrated in front of the college.  That demonstration ended before the conclusion of the class.  Sometime later, while walking off campus, Dr. Petraeus was confronted by a group of protesters, who surrounded him and persisted in following him, chanting as a group, shouting at him, and pounding on a car that he entered.

Harassment and abusive behavior toward a faculty member are antithetical to the university’s mission of free and open dialogue. Although this may be obvious, this kind of behavior strikes more deeply at the heart of our cherished American right to express our beliefs without threats or fear of retribution.

CUNY Interim Chancellor Bill Kelly issued the following statement:

During the first two weeks of the semester, demonstrators — from within and outside the University– have gathered near the Macaulay Honors College to protest the presence of Visiting Professor David Petraeus.  By nature, universities nurture the reasoned expression of dissent, including the right of peaceful protest. CUNY has long embraced the responsibility to encourage debate and dialogue. Foreclosing the right of a faculty member to teach and the opportunity of students to learn is antithetical to that tradition, corrosive of the values at the heart of the academic enterprise.  We defend free speech and we reject the disruption of the free exchange of ideas. Accordingly, CUNY will continue to ensure that Dr. Petraeus is able to teach without harassment or obstruction. In so doing, we join with the University Faculty Senate in defending the right of CUNY faculty members to teach without interference.

Even the University Faculty Senate weighed in, sending all CUNY professors the following statement:

Protestors, reportedly including CUNY students, have harassed new Macaulay Honors College Visiting Professor (and former CIA head and general)  David Petraeus on his way to class, using epithets, shouting “You will leave CUNY,” and chanting “ Every class David,” expressing an intent to continue their verbal attacks. Because they disagree with Professor Petraeus’ views, these demonstrators intend to deprive him of his ability to teach and the ability of his students to learn from him.

CUNY has long-established policies  to protect the academic freedom of faculty, which are essential for the University’s operation as a center of learning.

The Executive Committee of the University Faculty Senate deplores all attacks on the academic freedom of faculty, regardless of their viewpoint.  In the past, we have been strong advocates for the freedom of Kristofer J. Petersen-Overton to teach at Brooklyn College without harassment or retaliation.

Professor Petraeus and all members of CUNY’s instructional staff have the right to teach without interference.

Members of the university community must have the opportunity to express alternate views, but in a manner that does not violate academic freedom.

(In an excellent response to the Faculty Senate statement, Petersen-Overton set the record straight about what the Senate did and did not do during his travails.)

That was two weeks ago.

This past Tuesday afternoon, students held another protest against Petraeus, this time outside a Macaulay fundraiser. About 75 people participated, and eyewitnesses say that the cops quickly got rough. According to one report:

“Protestors were marching in a circle on the sidewalk and chanting, but the police forced them into the street and then charged. One of the most brutal things I saw was that five police officers slammed a Queens College student face down to the pavement across the street from Macaulay, put their knees on his back and he was then repeatedly kneed in the back,” said Hunter student Michael Brian. “The student was one of those pointed out by ‘white shirt’ officers, then seized and brutalized. A Latina student was heaved through the air and slammed to the ground.”

This post from Gawker, with video, confirms much of these claims.

Six students were arrested, held in jail for 20 hours, and have now been charged with disorderly conduct, riot, resisting arrest, and obstructing government administration.

The CUNY 6

And where are Kirschner, Kelly, and the Faculty Senate? Nowhere. What have they said about this police brutality and its relationship to academic freedom? Nothing.

Indeed, Kelly posted his statement in defense of Petraeus yesterday, September 20, four days after the students were beaten up and arrested by the cops. And all throughout the day yesterday, as the intrepid Steve Horn reports, Macaulay’s Twitter feed was filled with bubbly affirmations of free speech and the free exchange of ideas—which are most threatened, apparently, by the strident language of student protesters rather than the brutality of the NYPD.

So that’s where we stand. The delicate flowers of academic freedom at CUNY wilt before the jeers and jibes of a few students but warm to the blazing sun of the state. A four-star general who led two brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in Eurasia, a former head of the CIA whose hazing rituals at West Point alone probably outstrip anything the NYPD did to these students, requires the fulsome support of chancellors, senates, and deans. But six students of color beaten by cops, locked up in prison for a day, and now facing a full array of charges from the state, deserve nothing but the cold silence of their university. So much tender solicitude for a man so wealthy and powerful that he can afford to teach two courses at CUNY for a dollar; so little for these students, whose education is the university’s true and only charge.

It’s a depressing scene, reminiscent of that moment in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments where Smith compares the grief people feel over the discomfort of the powerful to their indifference to the misery of the powerless.

Every calamity that befals [the powerful], every injury that is done them, excites in the breast of the spectator ten times more compassion and resentment than he would have felt, had the same things happened to other men…To disturb, or to put an end to such perfect enjoyment, seems to be the most atrocious of all injuries. The traitor who conspires against the life of his monarch, is thought a greater monster than any other murderer. All the innocent blood that was shed in the civil wars, provoked less indignation than the death of Charles I. A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of death more terrible to persons of higher rank, than to those of meaner stations.

This morning, my five-year-old daughter floated the proposition that “David Petraeus is Voldemort.” She may be onto something. In the same way that dark wizard turned around so many heads at Hogwarts, so has Petraeus turned our sensibilities upside down at CUNY.

A group of CUNY grad students and faculty have organized a petition against the police brutality; email cunysolidarity@gmail.com to add your signature. And there’s going to be a rally in support of students’ right to protest on Monday, September 23, at 2:30 pm, at Macaulay Honors College, 35 W. 67th Street (between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue).

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