Provocation #105 The problem of narrowing perspective in history
The strategy of historians, especially of a field or a nation, is simple. They pick out in the past the major figure, or a few, that are obvious points of origin of the best qualities of the current state of affairs.
Adam Smith played (or was played) that role, so that much of what we have now seems to derive from him. We forget that he did not use the word economist, he did not use laissez faire, and he was strongly in favor of the state playing the role of protector and stimulator of those aspects of the population that were not developed, or actually inhibited, by commerce.He was extremely critical of corporations. There are 13 references to corporations in WofN, all critical.
This strategy of basing the present constellation on one major contributor in the past hurts when the present is itself being questioned. To cope with our difficulties we need the ideas of those who were ignored by our modern focus on Adam.
Much of his perspective was also ignored . Smith at his best was interested in the evolution of societies, and his focus was on the wealth of nations, not the wealth of economies nor the lazy rich.
Lsten to when a speaker or writer is staying within the narrow focus of economics as a closed system, and when the speaker allows for an exploration outside the conventional boundaries. Does the presentation make any reference to politics, to the actual well-being of humans, to the qualities of living?
Here is an example of an out-of-the-box thinking.
1. Humans are builders and look for opportunities to
2. Pull as much energy out of the environment as possible.
3. Th presence of surplus energy stimulates imagination about its use.
4. As builders humans are motivated to create more humans
5. More humans and more energy extraction are in a positive feedback loop
6. Much of what is built is or creates as a byproduct, junk
7. Until we have too much junk, too many people and a depleted environment.
If we can see such a dynamic we can perhaps do something about it. If we don’t we are just victims.