Turn over Mr. Smith, I know you want to...

The single greatest and worst things that have ever happened in the history of modern society, in my opinion, are one in the same. In 1776 (coincidence?) Adam Smith published his masterpiece: The Wealth of Nations. To attempt to go into great detail about the foundations laid and the obeservations made in this book would most likely put me over bandwidth, so I'll keep it as short and sweet as I can.
First of all, I would like to beging by clarifying the all-important misconceptions of Adam Smith - he is not the man who is most oft portrayed as being. He was a Capitalist by default of being a Libertarian' and he was not an Autocratic-capitalist, nor was he a fan of Government or 'men of commerce and trade'. He was also, in the modern day, the greatest opponent of Mercantalism and subsequently Colonialism. He was adamently against the use of slavery (albeit for Economic reasons and not those of social concern; which is hard to blame on a man who grew up in an entirely different society of norms and perceived righteousness).
What the man is best known for, other than his most eloquent writing and flowing thoughts and arguments, was his depiction of the gains from trade and the division of labour.

I will focus mostly on his ideas of the division of labour herein, as attempting to explain his opinions on free trade would a) mean I have to explain the predecessing Mercantalist thought, b) would get reponses from proponents of fair trade (whatever that is), and c) the gains from trade are obvious: I like coffee - Canada doesn't grow coffee - Canada imports coffee - Canada exports wheat. I'm happy, the coffee farmer is happy, the wheat farmer is happy, and currency remains unchanged (all in theory of course).

Although Adam Smith was not the first man to describe and explain the mechanism of the division of labour, he did do it the best. The principle of the division of labour was quite simple, and it was depicted using the illustration of the making of a pin (of all things, as many would say we are now 'pinned' under it in itself). He simply observed that the more simple the individual the tasks are in the manufacturing of any particular product, the more efficiently it can be created. Division of labour has since run rampant in our society, basically proving that Adam Smith was most definitely correct in his observation. Enough said on that.
What I would like to get at more is the unbelieveably eerie statements by Smith on the possible downfalls of the division of labour. To think that Smith was a myopic and rationally bounded individual who did not foresee the possible misuse of his findings is simply wrong. Adam Smith was well aware of the effects the division of labour would have on society and the work force. He blatantly stated that the repetitive and tedious work that the division of labour creates (think assembly line) would lead to the degradation of the mind of the labourer, and ultimately unhappiness. Although he did show a rare sign of optimism in acknowledging that should someone truly enjor their part of the process, they may as a result attain a greater level of happiness, he knew this would not be the majority.
My question is simple... when we consider that Smith openly understood and conceivably predicted the 'crippling of the masses' by corporations and capitalists, was it his comments on this that made these 'evil' individuals to proceed in doing so? Or was this inevitable?
Was the division of labour so universally implemented to promote efficiency and increased happiness or was it used to bring society to its knees?
Karl Marx would tell you that it was the capitalists that took a hold of the opportunity created by the division of labour and brought society to its knees (or stole the individuals' surplus value).

Smith was far from the man whom most believe he is. The man was a pessimist, most definitely - in fact, after Smith, Economics divided into two subcategories: optimists and pessimists. It was the pessimistic economic thought of his followers such as Ricardo, Malthus, and maybe Bentham (a stretch), that brought much of modern economic theory to life. It is not known as the dismal science for fun - really, it isn't. It's a dismal, dismal science. Much like alcohol is an evil, evil substance.
Adam Smith was a true libertarian - he based his economic theories based solely on pessimistic thought, unlike his more modern counterpart, Karl Marx. Marx was an optimist that saw an idealistic society of collectivism and collaboration. Although in my heart I wish Marx was right - he wasn't. Smith hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately in this world, regardless of how much we try to avoid it, there are a few certainties (other than death and taxes, which he hated both), free-riders, incentives to cheat, and general self-interest. I conjecture that Smith's philosophy was based more on a strategy for avoidance of being 'screwed' by his fellow man, as opposed to an optomistic strategy for the individuals of society to work together to create a common good. Smith accepted the moral sentiments of individuals. Smith saw the impossible reality of universal benevolence (picture two identical altruists trying to give eachother gifts - each would receive as much joy from giving as bad from receiving - a wash) He knew that self-interest, no matter how uncommon, would foil the plans of any socialist or communist system. The first to 'cheat' in a Communist system has the most to gain - and each individual there on in has a lesser incentive to cheat. The man who does nothing in a Communist country has the most to gain - as no matter how much he produces he will receive the same alotment. He also understood the dangers of the black market in a Communist system (read A tad on Communism).

I take after Smith in almost all of his thoughts. I have tried my hardest throughout life to keep a positive and optimistic attitude towards my fellow man - but they have failed me again and again. It is because of this that I resort to the dismal science for guidance. It's a pathetic existence to admit, but I think we are all better off accepting the thoughts of Smith and acknowledging that avoiding a bad is probably just as satisfying as seeking a good. Its cynical. Its pessimistic - but its reality.

A friend of mine once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. To me, this applies wonderfully. The intentions of Smith were good - he wanted men to live free and to work and consume as much as they desired without being interconnected in such a way (through the Church, government, or soclialism) that the opportunity to ride off of others ambition was not provided.
Unfortunately, in acknowleding the possible downfalls, he put the ideas in the head of autocratic and greedy capitalists to slightly twist his ideology into a form of control known as American Capitalism. I will say with one hundred percent certainty that Adam Smith is turning in his grave and is sitting in heaven, hell, purgatory, or the ground with his hands over his head in tears. But again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Would the world be a better place had the Wealth of Nations not been published? No one really knows. Should he have stopped after Theory of Moral Sentiments? Maybe.
The real question is, why did he burn his manuscripts and years of rough notes on his book on Politics? Did he see the mistake he may have made by publishing the Wealth of Nations and attempt to avoid any further damage? Or was it simply that he was such a perfectionist that it could not be published whilte perceivedly incomplete?

These are some of the questions that make Adam Smith not part of that infamous 'if you could be at a table with three people, who would they be?', but the reason why the answer to that question as far as I'm concerned is: one person, Adam Smith.


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