Tag Archives: Adam Smith

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).

When Kafka was NOT the rage

18 Sep

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

Common looking-glasses, it is said, are extremely deceitful, and by the glare which they throw over the face, conceal from the partial eyes of the person many deformities which are obvious to every body besides. But there is not in the world such a smoother of wrinkles as is every man’s imagination, with regard to the blemishes of his own character.

In fairness to Smith, this passage appears only in the first edition of TMS; it was excised from the succeeding five editions that appeared in his lifetime. It’s also quite out of keeping with the overall thrust of the text, particularly its lengthy passages on the torment we subject ourselves to when we act in ways we believe are less than praiseworthy, even if everyone else believes the contrary.

Adam Smith: The Real Spirit of Capitalism?

13 Sep

How can “the man of inferior rank…hope to distinguish himself,” muses Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Unlike the man of high rank, the non-noble cannot affect the bearing of nobility; his comportment will go unnoticed. “Why should the man, whom nobody thinks it worth while to look at, be very anxious about the manner in which he holds up his head, or disposes of his arms while he walks through a room?” The man of middling or inferior rank is expected to act modestly and plainly, so he must. He must thus pursue a different path, says Smith.

If ever he hopes to distinguish himself, it must be by more important virtues. He must acquire dependants to balance the dependants of the great, and he has no other fund to pay them from, but the labour of his body, and the activity of his mind.

 

Market Morals: Nietzsche on the Media, Adam Smith and the Blacklist

2 Apr

On self-censorship in the media:

Making use of petty dishonesty.—The power of the press resides in the fact that the individual who works for it feels very little sense of duty or obligation. Usually he expresses his opinion, but sometimes, in the service of his party or the policy of his country or in the service of himself, he does not express it. Such little lapses into dishonesty, or perhaps merely a dishonest reticence, are not hard for the individual to bear, but their consequences are extraordinary because these little lapses on the part of many are perpetrated simultaneously. Each of them says to himself: ‘In exchange for such slight services I shall have a better time of it; if I refuse such little acts of discretion I shall make myself impossible’. Because it seems almost a matter of indifference morally whether  one writes one more line or fails to write it, perhaps moreover without one’s name being attached to it, anyone possessing money and influence can transform any opinion into public opinion. (Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, § 447)

On the invisible hand in the blacklist:

According to the prevailing folklore, our lives, our liberty, our pursuit of happiness are creatures of our diversity. This was a political elaboration on Adam Smith’s economic proposition that the pursuit of individual self- results in the public good. Or, as James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, a society “broken into so many part, interests and classes of citizens” was the best guarantee of civil and political rights.

This theory of countervailing powers had a pleasant symmetry. And yet, after HUAC arrived in Hollywood, it didn’t seem to work. Each element of the community indeed sought its own goals, worked for its own ends, fought for its own interests, yet the result was not a series of benign cancellations of evil….The clash of private interests resulted not in the public interest’s being served but in the blacklist.

The blacklist experience suggests that the old assumption that the public interest is composed of the sum of private interests just doesn’t work. We learn from our study of Hollywood’s guilds, trade associations, agents, lawyers, religious and civic organizations, and the industry itself that the utilitarian ethic, and the liberal individualism it presupposes, wasn’t good enough.When each organization operated in its own interest, the sum of private interests turned out not to equal the public interest. A flaw in the calculus of pluralism. Adam Smith doesn’t work in the marketplace of moral issues. (Victor Navasky, Naming Names, pp. 146, 423-424)

From the Slaveholders to Rick Perry: Galileo is the Key

19 Jan

In honor of Rick Perry’s decision to quit the race, I’m reprinting one part of this blog post from September, which discusses what I still think is the most memorable moment of the entire campaign: when, in one of the early debates, Perry invoked Galileo in defense of his position on climate change.

 

 

The most arresting moment of the debate was when Rick Perry invoked Galileo in defense of his skepticism about climate change.  Here’s what he said:

The science is not settled on this.  The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense.  Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

That line has got everyone spinning; google Rick Perry and Galileo, and you get 471,000 results. But while everyone churns out their pet theories, let’s  remember that Galileo has long held a special place in the mind of the Old South. Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, famously invoked Galileo in defense of the slaveholders’ conviction that “the negro is not equal to the white man” and “subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

The comparison between Galileo and the slaveholder was as far-fetched as Perry’s, but like Perry, Stephens defended it on the ground that his position was a fugitive knowledge, a heresy that would one day become orthodoxy.  “This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.”

Other slaveholders (Josiah Nott, John C. Calhoun) made the same comparison; Calhoun also invoked Francis Bacon, Stephens also invoked William Harvey. Their point was that like those great heresies of early modern science, the southern science of race would one day triumph and be recognized the world over. It’s the way the white southerner has always negotiated his contradictory self-understanding of being both victim and victimizer. Again, Stephens:

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests?”

And so, I assume, says Rick Perry to himself and his followers about their equally dubious science of climate non-change.

Ten Years On, We’re Still Getting Nickel and Dimed (and Still Can’t Pee on the Job)

9 Aug

Nickel and DimedOn the tenth anniversary of its publication, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed is being re-released with a new afterword. Before reading Nickel and Dimed, I considered myself fairly well-versed in the coerciveness of the American workplace. But Ehrenreich schooled me in a whole other dimension of barbarism on the job: that, for example, in the United States workers do not enjoy a basic right, the right to go to bathroom when they need to go. Turns out, that’s a privilege, not a right. And it still is.

I reviewed Ehrenreich’s book, along with Jill Andresky Fraser’s White-Collar Sweatshop, in Dissent.  Based on the two books, I concluded thus:

Against critics—inspired by Michel Foucault—who focus on disciplinary institutions like prisons, hospitals, and schools, these books remind us that the workplace remains the central institution in most people’s lives. Foucault and his followers would have us believe that liberalism and the Enlightenment have vanquished the medieval world, and that discourses of freedom, reason, and individuality are the instruments of contemporary domination. But in the workplace, men and women are disciplined not by an impersonal panopticon but by the all-too personal figure of their boss. Liberalism is nowhere to be found, and Enlightenment might as well be the name of the utility company.

And thus:

Workers inhabit a world less postmodern than premodern, whose master theorist is neither Karl Marx nor Adam Smith but Joseph de Maistre.

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