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“Adam Smith and the Myth of Laissez Faire”

June 10, 2012

Via Mark Thoma:

“Gavin Kennedy continues to fight against cartoonish mis-representations of what Adam Smith actually said and believed:

Adam Smith and the Myth of Laissez Faire, by Gavin Kennedy: …Let us be clear: Adam Smith did not use the words “Laissez-faire” in anything that he wrote, published in his lifetime or posthumous, or in any student notes that have so far been found, or in any reports of his lectures by those who attended them (John Millar, James Woodrow, Lord Buchan, John Stuart, etc.,) or by those who knew him intimately (such as Dugald Stewart, whose father was a student at Glasgow with Smith). …

We know that Smith knew of the use and meaning of laissez-faire from his close association with the Physiocratic circle around Quesnay during his visits to Paris (1764-67). The fact is that laissez-faire never entered his vocabulary. Nor did an English translation. This has not prevented many commentators from seeking to use Smith’s use of Natural Liberty as a synonym for laissez-faire. It was not the same thing.

“Natural Liberty was a philosophical concept based on Natural Law theories as expressed by Grotius and Pufendorf… The originator of laissez-faire was a ‘plain spoken’ French merchant, M. le Gendre, a deputy of commerce …”

A key consequence of nature’s ubiquitous asymmetry is that it is possible, standing on the shoulders of giants, to unlock definitively the reasons for Natural Law in everyday life.

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