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On the Other (Invisible) Hand..

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  • Anthony Brewer

Abstract

The invisible hand as it appears in the Theory of Moral Sentiments is commonly treated as an afterthought in discussions of the version in the Wealth of Nations, but it deserves attention in its own right. I will argue that there is an entirely coherent (if not entirely plausible) economic argument underpinning the invisible hand of the Theory of Moral Sentiments. It is quite different from the invisible hand argument of the Wealth of Nations, not because of any conflict but because they address different questions. The argument in the Theory of Moral Sentiments allowed Smith to maintain an ironic distance from the inequality and greed that he saw around him while arguing that it did no harm, and allowed him to resolve, at least to his own satisfaction, an age-old debate about the ethical and political consequences of luxury consumption. Some of these themes were further developed in the Wealth of Nations, but without the phrase 'invisible hand', which was switched to a different part of the argument.

Suggested Citation

  • Anthony Brewer, 2009. "On the Other (Invisible) Hand..," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 41(3), pages 519-543, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:41:y:2009:i:3:p:519-543
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Richard Layard, 2006. "Happiness and Public Policy: a Challenge to the Profession," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(510), pages 24-33, March.
    2. Coase, R H, 1976. "Adam Smith's Views of Man," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(3), pages 529-546, October.
    3. N. Emrah Aydinonat, 2006. "Is the Invisible Hand un− Smithian? A Comment on Rothschild," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 2(2), pages 1-9.
    4. Lisa Hill, 2001. "The hidden theology of Adam Smith," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(1), pages 1-29.
    5. A. M. C. Waterman, 2002. "Economics as Theology: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 68(4), pages 907-921, April.
    6. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:2:y:2006:i:2:p:1-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Brewer, Anthony, 1998. "Luxury and Economic Development: David Hume and Adam Smith," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 45(1), pages 78-98, February.
    8. Anthony Brewer, 1997. "An eighteenth-century view of economic development: Hume and Steuart," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(1), pages 1-22.
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    Cited by:

    1. Madarász, Aladár, 2014. "A láthatatlan kéz - szemelvények egy metafora történetéből
      [The invisible hand - extracts from the history of a metaphor]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(7), pages 801-844.
    2. repec:kap:jbuset:v:147:y:2018:i:4:d:10.1007_s10551-017-3506-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Paul Oslington, 2012. "God and the Market: Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 108(4), pages 429-438, July.
    4. Caroline Gerschlager, 2012. "Agents of change," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 413-441, July.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    insivible hand; Theory of Moral Sentiments; Wealth of Nations;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals

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