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November 19, 2009

Once upon a recent time there was an interview between RNZ/Sunday show host Chris Laidlaw and Mr. Roger Kerr of the NZ Business Roundtable. In the course of this RK was to profess his knowledge and ‘understandings’ of human behavior. A sizeable array of somewhat eclectic sources were trotted out, even Shakespearean works. At which point the listener could have been forgiven for concluding that here was a highly selective user of others’ works.

At one point Chris was to kindly say that RK was a guru. A “guru’s guru” as I recall. Neither whisper nor word came in response. Allowing listeners reasonably conclude that RK did indeed consider himself such. Immodesty being more than a possibility. Thusly that which ought be robust enough to withstand scrutiny. And yes, my decision in respect of the following despite CL’s kindness. Which in no way served justice upon the fellow.

Why so? Importantly, he cited Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”(1776) as the starting block of his own economic development. Mention was made of Smith’s earlier The Theory of Moral Sentiments(1759). Unmentioned, however, were three significant things, without which no educational balance whatsoever, let alone intellectual honesty, could be extracted from the Smith source. These were:—

  • That the abiding work of Smith’s lifetime(he died in 1790) was The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Of which there were six editions, the last in that same year containing many revisions.
  • Wealth of Nations was not the published title: that was Inquiry into Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Rendering, would the reader not agree, a firm element of curiosity more than authority.
  • Chris Berry, Professor of Political Theory at University of Glasgow is a leading expert on the life and work of one of the University of Glasgow’s most famous academics, Adam Smith. He has created a 10 minute talk that describes the making of the man, the global significance of his writing and explains why Smith’s work still resonates with us today. Thereafter the following conclusion as direct influence of each work upon the other and thus Smith’s great contribution:—

What we can call economic behaviour is necessarily situated in a moral context. But more than that the key theme of the book is an opposition to the view that all morality or virtue is reducible to self-interest

Indeed I would add how Smith thought of the Wealth in his title as that of social and/or societal attainments. Synergism of individuals, groups, co-operations, collaborations and so on being the form we would recognise as relevant today.

There are, of course, passages in these books where a recent double decade bias has been deployed. Instance a sentence or so in the Inquiry which the links below reveal. Like assertion of persons admiring rich people and this deliberately taken by ‘todayers’ as motivation for others — “yuppies” and the oft-termed “chattering classes” — by proponents. When in fact, Smith stressed from the beginning of his book that others merely wished to see this richness and thereby perhaps serve it. Jobs, as it were, in recognition and acceptance of differences.

Selectivity in pursuit of self-interest is one thing: but fair and just upon the author something else. Thus explaining this protest commentary at the demonstrable conceit, deceptiveness and misuse of a man’s otherwise influential position. Not a good look I would have to say for enzed.

Related Links with highly informed comment and of course economist Mark Thoma.

Aiding circularity here and thus closure for me meantime, this morning I was to hear a report from the Christchurch journo for RNZ regarding a swearing in ceremony for recent migrants to the city. Prior to the specific declaration of personal responsibility by a sizeable group of diversely-sourced folks, were several interviews. One with an Afghani male, another a Saudi.. the first in answer to why he was in enzed told of its people being so friendly, how he could get “educated” information on what to do(job/study-wise); the second saying how hospitable he had found people, and education, and health etc.

Yes, sure, one might expect such remarks but I trust the journo’s ability to read her contributors well enough for genuine inclusion in broadcast audio. That said, my point here is to highlight the very Wealth that Smith was relating, and not the professorship of lesser men.

ps: to the powers that be I would suggest that if New Zealand’s wealth stands in good stead from such immigrants then a more responsible branding is to hand.

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