Insta-Millard Pundit, economics edition: Adam Smith was a bleeding heart liberal

December 21, 2013

In a new book, author Jack Russell Weinstein argues that we should pay more attention to Adam Smith’s first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments,  and not allow Smith’s humanitarian pleas for good community be hijacked by libertarians, conservatives or liberals.

Adam Smith’s Pluralism, Jack Russell Weinstein, Yale University Press, 360 pages

Adam Smith, updated. Illustration by Michal Hogue.

Adam Smith, updated. Illustration by Michal Hogue.

A review of the book explains further, at American Conservative, “Adam Smith, Communitarian:

Weinstein builds upon Smithian harmony, explaining that while life is not always commercial, it is always communal. Community, in turn, derives its lifeblood from “imagination,” because imagination creates the capacity for sympathy. Unlike Kant and other Enlightenment thinkers, Smith “presumes human difference” as a necessary and inherent aspect of civilization, rejecting the Kantian ideal of “noncontextual normativity.” Smith recognized that cultural, temporal, and social differences shaped norms and values, making it impossible to create a single, all-inclusive norm of human behavior. This is why sympathy is so important. It offers a means that is natural to the human condition—our desire to commiserate with our fellow man—to bridge the gap between our differences.

Smith believed that “political society is not derived from a social contract,” according to Weinstein. Instead, society is a natural expression of what it means to be human. The state of nature for Smith is one of community, and the ultimate questions related to human society are questions of morality and virtue, not economics and politics. Thus, a broad, morally robust education rooted in a particular community is essential to forming sympathetic individuals. While Smith did not idealize the role of education—it could not completely eliminate human selfishness and vanity—he believed it had the power to “direct vanity to proper objects” and to “convert competing passions into a harmonious character.”

[The blog post’s headline should be read with more than a hint of sarcasm; hate to have to explain that.]

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More unintentional humor from Texas conservatives: Can’t read charts on economic systems

April 1, 2013

Mural in Adams Building of Library of Congress, Jefferson on Education

Mural in the Adams Building of the Library of Congress,m with Thomas Jefferson’s views on education, and education’s importance to liberty. (Click for larger version)

Under the standards for social studies the Texas State Board of Education promulgates, Texas high school kids must learn to read charts and extract information from them.

In the criticism of the small-school curriculum planning system, CSCOPE, conservative critics demonstrate both that they are not as smart as a Texas high school kid, OR they don’t know feces in economics.

Note the chart; it’s a fuzzy picture, but it shows an arrow indicating which economic systems have more government involvement, or control, or “interference” in Texas conservative talk; and note the comments:

So, in other words, the conservatives worry because a chart shows that socialism and communism have “more government control and planning,” and the conservatives come unglued.  They read the chart incorrectly; generally conservatives can be counted on to favor less government control in economic matters, which this chart shows is a virtue of free market economics systems.

Let me repeat:  They read the chart incorrectly.

Worse, there’s a guy who professes to teach economics in a California college who says he doesn’t teach this stuff.

What do they want, what does he teach?  That communism offers more economic freedom from government regulation than free enterprise?

Clearly they didn’t bother to read the chart.  These critics are the epitome of knee-jerk reactionaries:  If there is a word about something they don’t like, they assume the entire piece is tainted and biased against them.  If you said, “We say the Pledge of Allegiance every day as a defense against communism,” they’d claim you’re teaching communism.

BUT, this sort of criticism got Texas Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Mars, to call for an investigation, a witch-hunt, of the group that works to provide curriculum helps especially to smaller districts who don’t have curriculum planning staffs; SBOE and the directors of the Regional Education Centers agreed.  Directors of the Regional Education Centers have bent over backwards to be open about what goes into CSCOPE, and how each lesson and each unit, and each test is aligned with Texas standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

Yeah, I know:  The chart could have been done differently.  But this is EXACTLY the sort of stuff the Texas Education Agency favors on standardized tests students must pass to advance and graduate, to make sure students read the questions, and the charts.

Are you as smart as a Texas high school student?  Then you’re smarter than the critics of CSCOPE, at least in this case.

Still, CSCOPE, in an well-intentioned effort to be open about the curriculum materials they provide, and whether there is any bias in them, released this statement on their support of free enterprise:

CSCOPE Response to Lesson Regarding Economic Systems

CSCOPE strongly believes in the greatness of the free enterprise system and how it has helped build our country into the envy of all other nations. Free markets are a critical part of our American way of life. It is important to note that the activity in question is in a high school course and not in a grade 6 lesson. This twenty-minute activity is part of a six-day lesson on various economic systems at the high school level that are state required teaching standards set forth by the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education requires students to learn the following economic systems in World History:

  • WH.18: Economics. The student understands the historical origins of contemporary economic systems and the benefits of free enterprise in world history. The student is expected to:
    • WH.18A: Identify the historical origins and characteristics of the free enterprise system, including the contributions of Adam Smith, especially the influence of his ideas found in The Wealth of Nations.
    • WH.18B: Identify the historic origins and characteristics of communism, including the influences of Karl Marx.
    • WH.18C: Identify the historical origins and characteristics of socialism.

Furthermore, the State Board of Education establishes student expectations that focus on social studies skills. For the World History unit referenced above, the following social studies skills are included:

  • WH.30: Economics: The student communicates in written, oral, and visual forms. The student is expected to:
  • WH.30C: Interpret and create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information.

The goal of this activity is to address the content and skills standards that have been adopted by the State Board of Education, and it is absolutely not promoting a way of life contrary to what we value as Americans. In this activity, students examine four different flags, beginning with the US flag, and analyze the colors, the design, and the graphics as symbols of each country’s characteristics and economic systems. Students then design a flag to demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of socialism, as the standard requires (WH.18C).

CSCOPE has a significant emphasis on the free enterprise system. The other economic systems are only addressed as required by State Board of Education. Additionally, every lesson and activity in our system is customizable. The teacher in the classroom is the final authority on whether or not the lesson should be customized for his or her students and community.

CSCOPE would also like to reassure parents and community members that there is a comparable activity in the lesson that focuses on free markets where students are asked to read about characteristics of free enterprise in The Wealth of Nations, complete an analysis chart, and discuss with their classmates the characteristics and benefits of the free enterprise system. In addition, in Texas History, World History, US History, and US Government courses, students are engaged extensively in studying the principles of the US free enterprise system and the role it plays in American society. Furthermore, Texas graduation requirements specify that students take an economics course, and this course focuses entirely on the American free market system.

CSCOPE staff takes great pride in helping educators teach the standards established by the State Board of Education. This dedicated staff works each day to ensure that teachers have the best resources available to help Texas school children succeed, and they continually focus on improving the system for the districts they serve. We are committed to helping every parent and community member better understand CSCOPE. Please contact CSCOPE through the http://www.cscope.us site if you have further questions or concerns.

The exercise with flag making is pretty lame, to me — with no note of irony that CSCOPE nor their critics would notice, it offers the grand opportunity to read all sorts of symbolism into the U.S. flag that was never intended by the flag’s designers, nor by any tradition.  That’s a pro-free enterprise bias if it occurs, however, and not a pro-communist or socialist bias.

One may wonder if the references to Adam Smith and Wealth of Nations threw the critics; more than once I’ve been confronted by a yahoo at a meeting in Texas who argues that we in the U.S. don’t need any foreign influences in our laws or economy, like that “socialist” Adam Smith!  (To be fair, he published in England . . .)

The charges from “Sharon” can’t help but remind you of that famous political smear campaign against then-U.S. Sen. Claude Pepper, of Florida, in which his opponent called him “Red” Pepper, and accused him of ::GASP!!:: matriculating while a student in college — and not just matriculating, but matriculating in public!

Yes, this is an attempted political smear of CSCOPE, Texas teachers, and Texas education.

P.S.:  I’d love to have a copy of that chart in a readable form; if you have access to the chart, especially to information that indicates where it really comes from (it looks like CSCOPE, but it’s fuzzy here), please send me a copy.  Thanks.

More:

Comments from people and groups who appear not as smart as a Texas high  school student:

And the original?  Screen shot from Glenn Beck’s show:


Leo Rosten on Adam Smith

July 29, 2007

Leo Rosten writes clearly, concisely, and often with great humor. Consequently, his essays make good fodder for classroom use.

British bank note featuring Adam Smith

Rosten is probably most famous for the introduction he once gave to the comedian W. C. Fields, a spur-of-the-moment bon mots that so exactly described Fields comedian persona that it is often listed as a line Fields himself wrote: “Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.”

That story also tells us that Rosten looks at Adam Smith coolly, through no rose-colored glass.

The Adam Smith Institute carries Rosten’s essay on Smith in its entirety. Go read it:

It is a clumsy, sprawling, elephantine book. The facts are suffocating, the digressions interminable, the pace as maddening as the title is uninviting: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. But it is one of the towering achievements of the human mind: a masterwork of observation and analysis, of ingenious correlations, inspired theorizings, and the most persistent and powerful cerebration. Delightful ironies break through its stodgy surface:

“The late resolution of the Quakers [to free] their Negro slaves may satisfy us that their number cannot be very great …”

“The chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches.”

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising customers [is] unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”

So comprehensive is its range, so perceptive its probings, that it can dance, within one conceptual scheme, from the diamond mines of Golconda to the price of Chinese silver in Peru; from the fisheries of Holland to the plight of Irish prostitutes in London. It links a thousand apparently unrelated oddities into unexpected chains of consequence. And the brilliance of its intelligence “lights up the mosaic of detail,” says Schumpeter, “heating the facts until they glow.” Sometimes.

Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776 – not as a textbook, but as a polemical cannon aimed at governments that were subsidizing and protecting their merchants, their farmers, their manufacturers, against “unfair” competition, at home or from imports. Smith set out to demolish the mercantilist theory from which those politics flowed. He challenged the powerful interests who were profiting from unfree markets, collusive prices, tariffs and subsidies, and obsolete ways of producing things.

[More at the site of the Adam Smith Institute, including the continuation of this essay.]

Leo Rosten, publicity shot

Leo Rosten


Quote of the moment: Immigration and economic growth

July 15, 2007

Immigrants’ Contribution to Economic Growth
“The pace of recent U.S. economic growth would have been impossible without immigration. Since 1990, immigrants have contributed to job growth in three main ways: They fill an increasing share of jobs overall, they take jobs in labor-scarce regions, and they fill the types of jobs native workers often shun. The foreign-born make up only 11.3 percent of the U.S. population and 14 percent of the labor force. But amazingly, the flow of foreign-born is so large that immigrants currently account for a larger share of labor force growth than natives (Chart 1).”

Foreign-born share of U.S. Labor Force and Labor Force Growth; Orrenius, Dallas FRB

Foreign-born share of U.S. Labor Force and Labor Force Growth; Orrenius, Dallas FRB

Foreign-born share of U.S. labor force and labor force growth

Pia M. Orrenius, senior economist in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Southwest Economy, Issue 6, November/December 2003, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas


Economics: History of money

June 30, 2007

Texas standards for economics require students to learn the history of money.

Jennifer Dorman, writing at Cliotech, points to an on-line article by economist Robert Samuelson, “The Cashless Society Has Arrived,” and then she adds a series of links to other valuable articles covering the history of money, and she strings it together in a coherent story that will give you a couple of moments of worry about where our economy is headed.

Go beef up your links, and get the ideas for the lesson plan that will knock the kids’ socks off.


Fisking Paszkiewicz — or virtual carnage in Kearny, N.J.

February 20, 2007

That kid in New Jersey whose town turned on him, on the town’s internet bulletin board, after he ratted out the history teacher who was preaching instead of teaching? He’s still under attack.

The teacher took some time out to defend his odd views in the local paper. His letter is several weeks old, and it’s been fisked by others, but I want my licks. I fisk the letter below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


Champion of free markets, Milton Friedman

November 17, 2006

94-year old free market champion Milton Friedman died yesterday. Many great accountings for his career will be written, I’m sure — here is the New York Times notice.

Milton Friedman in 1964, NY Times photo

Milton Friedman in 1964 – New York Times photo

At the end of the 20th century, it certainly appeared that Friedman was more right than Keynes, and almost diametrically opposed to Marx. There are questions about whether free markets will be able to pull the former Soviet Union out of its economic woes, however, and we have run into a lot of questions about how to establish the free markets that guarantee political freedom in nations in Africa, Asia and South America.

Friedman was the greatest exponent of school vouchers in America, a view that I found had intellectual appeal but which, to me, fails to win any respect in actual practice, especially when the voucher programs hammer away at the foundations of public education (such as the public schools Friedman attended) by systematically choking off funding for public education.

I for one will miss his voice in these debates. It was a well-educated, gentle voice, tempered by reason and a lot of common sense. Free market economists grow almost abundant these days. There will never be another Friedman.

Update: Nice tributes and serious criticism. A friend uses an exercise in class requiring students to write obituaries for famous economists — Friedman’s death offers ample opportunities to collect real obits to use for examples. See some of the comments, such as:

Nothing about Friedman is up yet at The Becker-Posner Blog.  If they do anything at all on Friedman, it will be worth the read.


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