Sunday, April 5, 2009

Adam Smith on the Current Financial Crisis

While there is much wrong with Mr. Smith's work, he did, in The Wealth of Nations, note the following:
"To promote the little interest of one little order of men in one country, it hurts the interest of all other orders of men in that country, and of all men in all other countries."

The result of policies favoring "one little order of men (Wall Street, in the current crisis)" gives rise to what Smith calls "a high rate of profit."
"But besides all the bad effects to the country in general, which have already been mentioned as necessarily resulting from a high rate of profit; there is one more fatal, perhaps, than all of these put together, but which, if we may judge from experience, is inseparably connected with it. The high rate of profit seems everywhere to destroy that parsimony which in other circumstances is natural to the character of the merchant. When profits are high, that sober virtue seems superfluous, and expensive luxury to suit better the affluence of his situation. But the owners of the great mercantile capitals are necessarily the leaders and conductors of the whole industry of every nation, and their example has a much greater influence upon the manner of the whole industrious part of it than that of any other order of men. If his employer is attentive and parsimonious, the workman is very likely to be so too; but if the master is dissolute and disorderly, the servant who shapes his work according to the pattern which his master prescribes to him, will shape his life too according to the example which he sets him.

It is thus that the single advantage which the monopoly procures to a single order of men, is in many different ways hurtful to the general interests of the country."

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