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On the other (invisible) hand ..

  • Anthony Brewer

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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.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK in its series Bristol Economics Discussion Papers with number 06/594.

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Length: 16 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bri:uobdis:06/594
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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 C24-C33, 03.
  2. 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.
  3. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:2:y:2006:i:2:p:1-9 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. 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.
  5. Coase, R H, 1976. "Adam Smith's Views of Man," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(3), pages 529-46, October.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. N. Emrah Aydinonat, 2006. "Is the Invisible Hand un− Smithian? A Comment on Rothschild," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 2(2), pages 1-9.
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