lørdag 20. november 2010

Moral Sentiments

Det er vanskelig å oppsummere Adam Smiths Theory of Moral Sentiments i en bloggpost, men her er noen tanker og sitater.

Den aller første setningen er flott:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
For Smith begynner alt dette med sympati: vi kan ikke fullt ut oppleve noen annens virkelighet (fordi hver av oss bare opplever verden gjennom vår egen bevissthet), men vi kan forestille oss hvordan vi ville følt i samme situasjon. Dette betyr også at ingen andre kan se verden fra nøyaktig samme perspektiv som oss selv, og vi må forstå at våre egne gleder og sorger oppleves sterkere for oss selv enn for andre. Det ligger en god porsjon ydmykhet i dette, og Smith oppfordrer oss til å vurdere våre egne følelser og argumenter gjennom øynene til the impartial spectator.

Videre: denne lille setningen (på side 264 i siste Penguin-utgaven) fikk meg til å tenke på The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, og på hvor mye mer vi får ut av arbeidslivet enn bare lønn:
Colleagues in office, partners in trade, call each other brothers; and frequently feel towards one another as if they really were so.
Det synes jeg er veldig flott å tenke på.

Her er et altfor langt sitat (fra side 213-215) hvor Smith forklarer hvorfor vi bør følge vår egeninteresse, og hvordan den usynlige hånden fungerer:
Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be confined and cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity expands itself to every thing around us. We are then charmed with the beauty of that accommodation which reigns in the palaces and oeconomy of the great; and admire how every thing is adapted to promote their ease, to prevent their wants, to gratify their wishes, and to amuse and entertain their most frivolous desires. [...] The pleasures of wealth and greatness, when considered in this complex view, strike the imagination as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon it.
And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner. It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind. It is this which first prompted them to cultivate the ground, to build houses, to found cities and commonwealths, and to invent and improve all the sciences and arts, which ennoble and embellish human life; which have entirely changed the whole face of the globe, have turned the rude forests of nature into agreeable and fertile plains, and made the trackless and barren ocean a new fund of subsistence, and the great high road of communication to the different nations of the earth. The earth by these labours of mankind has been obliged to redouble her natural fertility, and to maintain a greater multitude of inhabitants. It is to no purpose, that the proud and unfeeling landlord views his extensive fields, and without a thought for the wants of his brethren, in imagination consumes himself the whole harvest that grows upon them. The homely and vulgar proverb, that the eye is larger than the belly, never was more fully verified than with regard to him. The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion to the immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that of the meanest peasant. The rest he is obliged to distribute among those, who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself makes use of, among those who fit up the palace in which this little is to be consumed, among those who provide and keep in order all the different baubles and trinkets, which are employed in the oeconomy of greatness; all of whom thus derive from his luxury and caprice, that share of the necessaries of life, which they would in vain have expected from his humanity or his justice. The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. When Providence divided the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to have been left out in the partition. These last too enjoy their share of all that it produces. In what constitutes the real happiness of human life, they are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for.
Altså: enkeltmenneskers ambisjoner og egeninteresse kan løfte levestandarden til hele samfunn, selv om hensikten bare var å berike en selv. Dette argumentet er kanskje ikke like sterkt støttet hele veien (og bør uansett kontres med argumentet om overklassens conspicuous consumption), men det er en god måte å forstå ideen om den usynlige hånden.

Men likevel: det store poenget å ta med seg fra denne boka er at Adam Smith eksplisitt avfeier at egeninteresse er det eneste vi motiveres av (373-374):
That whole account of human nature, however, which deduces all sentiments and affections from self-love, which has made so much noise in the world, but which, so far as I know, has never yet been fully and distinctly explained, seems to me to have arisen from some confused misapprehension of the system of sympathy.
For mer om denne boka: sjekk EconTalk Book Club.

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