The Wealth of Nations: the first of many

I have recently begun to read Adam Smith’s “the wealth of nations”. The reason being, I have an economics class this semester, and I would like to have a voice of reference to help analyze all the ideas soon to be discussed. This helps for any subject of study, might I add; only because textbooks are limited; that is, they show us the ideas, but they never show us creative ways to glue the ideas together. The justification for such is that the book is to not teach opinion. Thus, to see creative thought within a discipline, one must study the world-view of a person that has become intimate with that disciplines ideas. Therefore, reading the texts of those that helped shape a discipline develops a nuance in one’s ability to think critically; hence the current venture we will undergo.

I will continue to write these posts as each chapter is finished. Each post will be a collection of my thoughts about some of the arguments and ideas put forth by Adam Smith; sometimes there will be disagreement, sometimes there will be nothing but agreement, and sometimes I might find nothing of interest. I would like to further add that, given that this will be a real-time update on my reading of the book, my disagreements with Adam Smith will never be towards him; only because it would be unwise to attack someone’s position when I’ve not even thoroughly understood it.

The of the version of the book I am reading: Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations

As of now, I am on the editor’s notes and have already come to a thought which I’d like to discuss.

On pg. xixx, there is mention of a view that, though perhaps debatable as to what it genuinely means, would nevertheless benefit from a discussion. That is to say, even if it turns out to be the case that our interpretation of this view is wrong, a discussion on the wrong interpretation will still prove to be useful.

So, whatever is the view? I’m glad you asked.

Adam Smith, as said on pg.xixx paragraph two, conflated the idea of consumption with, “the natural wants of mankind.” That is, he makes no distinction between “the natural wants of mankind which are to be supplied,” and consumption.  Now, there are of course many possible interpretations, such as that Smith was being stylistic in his writing rather than rigorous in his writing, but I, nonetheless, want to assume the simplistic interpretation as a means for discussion.

The simplistic and straightforward interpretation leads to an issue. More specifically, it assumes that what a person wants is necessarily reflected within the idea of consumption, like how unmarried man is necessarily reflected within bachelor. This is simply not the case; humans can consume without wanting, and want without consuming.

Consider the first instance, to consume without wanting. An unhealthy individual may want nothing more than the immediate cessation of medications; however, they are wise enough to know that the gap between reality and their wants is vast, and so they readily do away with their wants in favor of reality. Now consider the second instance, to want without consuming. There are many folks that want to consume marijuana, but they neglect to do so; only because they would much rather abide by the law.  So, there is a legal motivation that raises enough anxiety to stop that person from pursuing their want. So, there are external motivators which influence behavior, and thus make people perform decisions based on practicality.

The point here, then, is that to conflate consumption with human psychology is misleading. Consumption should be left as a description alone since we do not sufficiently understand the human brain: human psychology. When someone purchases Michael Jordan’s shoes, it could be for many reasons: namely, that the purchaser had had a pseudo-scientific belief that it would make them a better player, that the person wanted to save money and so happened to have a discount voucher, or that they were pressured to purchase the shoes by a peer. If there were only 3 options available, and we relied upon consumption to reflect human wants, then we would have a massive misunderstanding in front of us.

Thus, we should never conflate consumption with human psychology, for it is far from an apriori truth that consumption and reflects, entirely, the wants of mankind.

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