Wed Jan 29, 2003

In Small things and Large

I’m about to go teach my undergrad social theory class. We’re reading Adam Smith (at least, I’m reading him) and looking at his argument about the invisible hand of the market . I’ve already had the class do a couple of practical experiments in distributed co-ordination, which were lots of fun. (At least, they were for me.)

Today we’ll look at two of Smith’s arguments in the Wealth of Nations about why the invisible hand works. The first one anticipates Hayek: “[E]very individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him” (WON IV.ii). The second one is the idea that “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.” That one is a mistake, of course, and is the entree to Marx (next week). It also gives me an excuse to put some Thomas Schelling on the syllabus. My class will begin to see why it’s wrong when I ask them to turn around and shake the hand of the person sitting behind them.

Class prep combined with blogging. Cool. So this isn’t a complete waste of time after all.