As a child of the great depression, as one with interest in economic history, but not a historian, I've begun to review the times when Adam Smith lived, in the early to late 18th century, spanning the period of America's birth.
Today's economic situation has renewed my curiosity in trying to understand the economic thought that developed and was being accepted at about the same time that we were developing a democratic nation. Free trade and free enterprise was also the thought on which our new nation was to base its existence.
As a significant number of political leaders base their economic thinking on the thoughts and writings of Adam Smith, I want to go back and study these concepts in more detail.
In my earlier study of those who have attempted to understand the role of economics throughout history, my general conclusion in the end was that no economist had been able to understand more than the superficial function of economics and the role it plays in our social human life.
After all, the study of economics is an attempt separate and to pull out those elements of society that deal with “making a living” and how all those varied elements work together to form what today we refer to as an economy.
The analysis and interpretations of information then available to economist, today also serve to guide much of political thinking and the action taken in the “market place,” the term no longer describing the original reality of market or market place.
Most human beings entertain many thoughts contradictory to each other. Jefferson, one of my greatest presidents kept slaves, a tradition that had to be changed by another of my great presidents, Lincoln. Jefferson didn't even free the slave he took on as a concubine..
Today we could not possibly accept an economic system that was based on slavery, especially as it was in the South.
Yet Adam Smith, born in Scotland, also studied and lived in England, as did I, but at a much later date, but he at a time when the British were involved in slave trade and territorial conquests, hardly touches on the subject of slavery as a moral issue in his Wealth of Nations as I recall. So I must go for a closer and renewed look.
Our global financial system today is more than Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln could have imagined, even though the industrial side of the system is still based on a type of slave mentality, without the actual responsibility of owning workers as slaves, but still seeking out cheap labor wherever it may be.
I want to go back to Adam Smith and attempt to understand what his thoughts were on slavery or did he ignore what had become a significant part of an economy such as ours.
No one could anticipate what would happen to American slaves once they were freed and were to “make a living” in the free market of those times.
The attempt to free slaves at the time was considered sufficient interference with the free market for one part of the country to go to war with another part, whose economy was not so dependent on slavery.
I don't believe that the economic analysis made during the mid-eighteenth century and the type of economy described at the time could significantly apply to the electronic and highly sophisticated financial transactions of today's global economy, an economy, by the way, which may lead us into the deepest depression known.
So one of my tasks during this developing lull in economic activity but agitated response to “making a living” is going to be to try to understand what aspects of Adam Smith's observations, that lead to the concept of “the invisible hand,” really apply to understanding our economy today.