Two new items are now featured on the homepage: Robert Mickens’s latest Letter from Rome, in which he details recent key appointments (and continuing vacancies) at the Vatican, and Edward D. Kleinbard’s article on the (mis)appropriation of economist Adam Smith. From Kleinbard’s “Invisible Man”:
Politicians and pundits alike regularly invoke Smith’s name to contrast the efficiency of markets in allocating goods and services with what they see as the damage done by government when it constrains “unfettered individual choice.” And in doing so, they regularly misapply Smith’s most famous metaphor, turning the “invisible hand” into an embodiment of the virtues of an unfettered market. … Even Pope Francis, in his beautifully argued Evangelii Gaudium, assumed that the invisible hand belonged to the impersonal forces of the marketplace.
But all this is the Adam Smith of legend. The real Adam Smith was a sophisticated thinker about moral virtues as well as efficient markets, not a cartoon spokesperson for laissez-faire economic policy. Smith never intended his metaphor of the invisible hand to become synonymous with an omniscient and efficient Mr. Marketplace. …
Why should we care that many modern observers so fundamentally caricature the man they see as the mascot of free enterprise? One answer is simply out of respect and admiration for the subtlety of Smith’s thought and its continuing relevance to our own efforts to become responsible members of society. But the more important reason to engage with the real Adam Smith is that doing so reveals how impoverished our public-policy discourse has become. Smith’s famous invisible hand has today become a dead hand, stifling meaningful debate over the roles of government and private markets.