Amartya Sen in Dublin

Nobel Laureate in Economics Amartya Sen spoke to a capacity audience at TCD yesterday.  His theme was “On Global Confusion” and he ranged from credit default swaps to Adam Smith’s views on selfishness. Podcast is available here.

He also gave an interview to Cathal Mac Coille of Morning Ireland: the full podcast of that is here.

3 replies on “Amartya Sen in Dublin”

Excellent and humane lecture by Amartya Sen.
His comments on Healthcare should be compulsory listening for Mary Harney and her government colleagues. As he remarked, the “markets” do not solve all problems and certainly not healthcare which is primarily a public good/service. Sadly for patients and the majority of the healthcare professions and support staff the present government is set on its market driven approach and is deaf to a humane alternative.

History has shown that Adam Smith, who saw a conspiracy on the part of employers “always and everywhere” to keep wages as low as possible, would have been a more inspiring patron for the Left, than Karl Marx.

To declare self-interest as a primary (as distinct from sole) motivation, is generally taboo but it’s the reality for most people including communists.

Smith was far from an eighteenth century Gordon Gekko character, as he is somtimes portrayed.

His most famous quote is best read as part of the paragraph in the Wealth of Nations, from which it was taken:

“In civilized society he [man] stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons. In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

I like his joke that “some men are born small, others achieve smallness but Adam Smith has had much smallness thrust upon him”.

It is interesting how many people have followed the bastardised version of Adam Smith that unrestrained markets are the root of all good. I suspect that it is the simplicity of the message that made it pervasive as a meme despite its dreadful flaws as an economic theory.

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