Hello world!

A brief introduction:

This is the first post on my new blog.  I’m going to blog 500 words per day for the next month to see whether I like it.

The loose theme of this blog will be “blogging the classics of social science and philosophy.”  I’m going to read and comment on important and influential books few people read anymore – Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money; Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men; The Federalist Papers, and so on.  I’m going to start with Adam’s Smiths’ Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations – specifically, The Wealth of Nations (Optimized for Kindle), downloaded to my iPhone, so I’ll be commenting both on the book and on the iPhone/Kindle reading experience.

Why The Wealth of Nations?

Because conservatives cite Adam Smith as an inspiration.  Because it’s an important work in the history of economics.  Because I’ve heard rumors that it’s not the free market screed its so often made out to be.  And because hardly anyone actually reads it.

“Introduction and Plan of the Work”

Smith starts with an observation about what economists now call national income accounting: “The annual labor of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes…”  He continues by describing basic relationships between wealth, consumption, population, and productivity, more or less the same concepts that underlie modern economic theory.

It seems he’s merely clearing his throat here, because he quickly moves on to describe the layout of the work:

  • Book 1: Why is it that the “civilized” nations produce so much more wealth, per person, than the “savage” nations?  And how does surplus wealth come to be “naturally distributed among the conditions and ranks of men”?
  • Book 2: What is capital stock, how is it accumulated, and how does it relate to labor?
  • Book 3: The history of European economic policy, and how it has favored city and industry over country and agriculture.
  • Book 4: The various theories of political economy popular in Smith’s day, and their effects.
  • Book 5: Which things private individuals ought to pay for and which things nation-states, or “the commonwealth”, ought to pay for

It sounds like the first two books might be a bit of a drag, definitions of terms and concepts, though it should still be interesting to see how an economist several hundred years ago thought about these issues and whether it’s similar to how we think about them today.  The third, fourth, and especially fifth books sound more interesting; the fifth book might even turn out to be an argument in favor of the free market.

Wikipedia tells me I’m going to run into some archaic language:

  • The term economics was not yet in use.
  • The term capitalism as not yet in use. Smith talks about a “system of perfect liberty” or “system of natural liberty”.
  • To a certain extent, some form of feudalism was still dominant in parts of Europe.
  • The term corporation, as in feudal corporations, referred to a body that regulated and, in Smith’s portrayal, limited participation in a skilled trade.

On the Kindle for iPhone:

It’s treating me right so far, though I miss one particular feature I saw on Stanza, a competing eBook reader: when you “turn the page” on Stanza, there’s actually an animation of a turning page. A nice organic touch that the Kindle lacks, unless there’s a feature I didn’t notice.


One Response

  1. Just me, testing comments.

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