Adam Smith's View of Human Nature

Adam Smith: From Human Nature to Human Society

2.2) From Human Nature to Human Society: Hence the key importance of the human cultural invention of money in forming our large-scale human society: money means that any one of us can make a short-term one-shot exchange relationship with any other one of us, someone who we may well never see again. Money, you see, is manufactured trust, and it allows us to extend our societal division of labor to encompass, indirectly, nearly everybody else in the world.

For example, consider the 30-foot bronze statue of Athene Promakhos—Athena Fighting-in-Front—that the council and people of Athens had cast and installed on the Acropolis around -450. The Greek geographer Pausanias wrote that anyone approaching Athens by sea by day could see her gleaming helmet and the tip of her spear as soon as they had rounded Sounion Head at the southern tip of Attika. 70 tons of bronze supposedly went into the statue, which survived until 1204—63 tons of copper, 7 tons of tin. Copper was abundant. But where in the -5th century were the artisans of Athens to find 7 tons of tin? The historian Herodotos states that he could find nobody in Athens who knew where the tin was coming from: all anyone could say was that the ships had picked up the tin, already mined, in Sicily, and that they thought it came from “tin islands” in the ocean on the other side of Europe. But he could find nobody who would claim to have actually seen these tin islands, or this ocean on the other side of Europe. So he doubted the stories.

The answer, of course, was that the tin was in Cornwall, at the southwestern tip of the island of Britain. The societal division of labor, as governed by the market, was a mechanism that “knew” that 7 tons of tin needed to be mined in Cornwall and then shipped, probably via the English Channel-Seine-portage-Rhone-Mediterranean route, to Athens via Sicily. And so it happened. But, apparently, nobody anywhere in the value chain knew its entire extent. The market knew things that no human individual knew. And this was almost 2.5 millennia ago: the market knows much, much, much more now.

Language, weak dominance, gift exchange, and money have enabled us to progress from perhaps 10,000 of us 70,000 years ago living at a global average living standard of perhaps three 3.5 dollars a day to today’s world-girdling societal division of labor now 7.5 billion strong, with a global average standard of living no about $35 a day. We are now, collectively, on average, at least 10 times as well-off and 750,000 times as numerous as we were 70,000 years ago back in the environment of evolutionary adaptation when we last passed through a Darwinian bottleneck.

Here the full files are—unfinished:

And the course slides:

#books #highlighted #history #historyofeconomicthought #moralphilosophy #politicaleconomy #2019-11-20