I am in the middle of so many projects in which the modern version of economic theory is at the centre, that I find my thoughts overflowing into these blogs. A blog is not, however, supposed to be anything other than an overview shared among like-minded people. Comments on my post on the sins of economics are reasonable and temperate, but still fill me with some dismay which has me led me to go over some of that ground again. The sense of inevitability for the Industrial Revolution in the midst of the pastoral settings of eighteenth century England is not one I share. What did happen is not necessarily what had to happen. As Tel, no doubt intending to be ironic, points out:
I dunno, it’s probably more important that Isaac Newton invented gravity… I mean, without gravity you could slip easily, lose your footing and fly off into space. Sorry, but Newton is much more important in the scheme of human progress.
As it happens, Newton’s three laws did not change all that much about anything, but it did change the climate of thought. Certain ideas matter. It was not Adam Smith by himself and on his own, although he did have a fair share to do with it. The period 1770 through to about 1830 was the only period in history when being anti-establishment meant being pro-market. It was in that relatively brief span of time that the market economy was allowed to come into the foreground in the teeth of opposition from the landed aristocracy to the Luddite opponents of new technologies. Economic theory has been trying to backtrack ever since, whether the Marxist variety or the Keynesian variety and now even the mainstream. With Green policies so insidious, where to from here is not all that obvious, although I think that with the market genie out of the bottle, it remains almost impossible to stop. But Schumpeter in 1942 was already predicting that capitalism’s success would be its downfall.
Ray has then added:
I trust we are not ascribing the growth experienced during the Industrial Revolution to Adam Smith. It was not until after the repeal of the Corn Laws and Navigation Acts in 1846 and 1849 respectively, more than seventy years after The Wealth of Nations was first published, that the teachings of Smith and Ricardo, began to dominate policy matters. Until then, the Mercantilists ran public policy, very much the antithesis of everything Smith taught us.
A climate of opinion is essential for any system to take hold. If opinion didn’t matter, if the structure of beliefs made no difference, then elect socialists and get on with spreading equity instead of wealth. These things matter now and they certainly mattered 1770-1830.
And this was brought up from the Zero Hedge list, which is supposedly an example of seeking greater market regulation:
The benefits of free trade outweigh the costs of a country losing its manufacturing sector as a result; the fact that domestic companies have to comply with much stricter and costlier regulations than their foreign competitors is of no consequence.
If you don’t think domestic regulation affects an economy’s ability to produce, just have a look at the mining industry before and after Labor. Try adding in a measure of carbon pricing and see how the aluminium industry prospers. The phrase “internationally competitive” has a meaning. This may not be phrased to your liking, but it makes a point worth thinking about.
So let me finish with this quote from Rich:
A seed takes time to grow to a tree that bares fruit, and in that time it needs its protectors and proselytisers.
If economics in 1776 was like economics today, how likely would the Industrial Revolution have been then?