It’s hard not to read some Adam Smith if you have to teach economics. Smith was a moral philosopher and you can find a good gist of his work here – http://mises.org/journals/jls/8_2/8_2_7.pdf – if you haven’t read him you’ll probably be surprised. He wasn’t some kind of mad right wing turkey, but then Marx wasn’t some kind of mad leftie other than in the hands of mad lefties. The Smith gist is that capitalism would be a good foundation for moral society. God knows what the crap system we have now is. The origins of trade are clearly ancient, but we can sort of place capitalism as arising as a challenge to the landed oligarchy in the 17th century. Even Marx had some time for it in helping to displace feudalism. My own view is that we haven’t seen either capitalism or socialism and both are merely ‘ideal types’ of Utopian rot.
Smith believed capitalism could bring about conditions for moral virtue and material well-being to flourish, Marx that socialism would do the same. Both could be right as both systems might work if some other factors weren’t involved in screwing up what is of mice and men. What I don’t want is stuff like war and the undue influence of others in my life (though I do want the due influence and reciprocal help of and to others). Capitalist or socialist rules would make no difference to my contentment if we had reasonable peace and fairness in place.
When the Soviet system unwound, I could find few people utterly infected with Marxist-Leninism, though I did find plenty who wondered in the ‘new economics’ was yet more power-play bullshit. One expects if we could boot the arse of the cretin running North Korea, few would regard his recent ancestors as gods for long. It is true that the mass murderers Mao and Stalin are still revered by some in their respective countries. Moses, indubitably a war criminal in Numbers 31, is seen even today as holy by some. The ‘great leaders’ my classes come up with in discussing leadership are all shits who put together enough PR to get followers or elected. They all told lies no one in their right mind should believe.
The real economic questions concern whether we can form a transparent society that largely regulates itself. I take it this doesn’t mean living in glass houses and undressing with the lights on, which seems as likely as Durex fluids leading to an outbreak of opera singing amongst women, as in the recent advert. I have been lucky enough to live before both this disturbing prospect and in a time when you could queue in a line for a job on a first come, first employed basis.
We are not being transparent about what is going wrong and the extent of our failure. Crap as youth is once you’re an oldie (read it in history and discover what an ordinary old curmudgeon you are across the eons), our kids are not unemployed because they are a bunch of slackers. They have better school and university qualifications than we managed. Unlike me they probably have no house and debts bigger than my current mortgage. While this is happening, the rich get richer in a system some have compared to feeding a horse enough oats to ensure following sparrows can get to pick a few bits out.
The truth in history is that we’ve been had by almost everyone in power, from the mad bastards ‘leading’ a cavalry charge into a volcano and yet somehow surviving to tell the tale to academics telling kids they are being taught immediately transferable work skills for their £9K fees and maintenance loans. Full employment has been more caused by the Black Death and war than any economic Utopia.