I’m still slogging through “Economics of Good and Evil” by Tomas Sedlaček. Despite being over my head and kind of dull in parts, I am learning some things. For instance, the author seems to think that Adam Smith is both over-rated and misunderstood, and the invisible hand idea actually came from Bernard Mandeville, who preceded Smith by a generation and of whom Smith was not actually a big fan.
They’ve both been dead a very long time so I don’t care about that, but I do have some opinions on this ‘invisible hand’ idea. I get it, if everybody acts in their own self interest, it will all help the economy in the end. If you are a thief, you are spurring the economy because your actions encourage people to buy alarm systems, insurance, guns, and a new TV set to replace the one you stole. It’s sort of like trickle-down, only sideways. And, as a description of economics, it works.
The bubonic plague killed off about 50% of Europe’s population, but it paved the way for the Renaissance. WWII killed 18 million people or thereabouts, but gave us jet aircraft, computers, and space travel. Still, nobody is advocating for disease, or war.
So, I’m not saying the invisible hand theory is incorrect. I’m just saying I don’t understand how anybody could think this is a good thing. It’s an INVISIBLE HAND. Sure, the rich person might say “it works for me” with a smug smirk, as if they’ve got a right to be richer than other people. But, for the average working person, the invisible hand is always just around the corner, waiting to whack you up the side of the head.
The world needs an economy which works, even in the short term, for all of the world’s people. It could be done. We’ve got the resources. We’ve got the manpower. And we’ve got the technology.
We need to make that invisible hand visible and put it to work.