Erasing the Invisible Hand

Erasing the Invisible Hand : Essays on an Elusive and Misused Concept in Economics

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This book examines the use, principally in economics, of the concept of the invisible hand, centering on Adam Smith. It interprets the concept as ideology, knowledge, and a linguistic phenomenon. It shows how the principal Chicago School interpretation misperceives and distorts what Smith believed on the economic role of government. The essays further show how Smith was silent as to his intended meaning, using the term to set minds at rest; how the claim that the invisible hand is the foundational concept of economics is repudiated by numerous leading economic theorists; that several dozen identities given the invisible hand renders the term ambiguous and inconclusive; that no such thing as an invisible hand exists; and that calling something an invisible hand adds nothing to knowledge. Finally, the essays show that the leading doctrines purporting to claim an invisible hand for the case for capitalism cannot invoke the term but that other nonnormative invisible hand processes are still useful more

Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 1139125567
  • 9781139125567

Table of contents

Preface; 1. Adam Smith's invisible hand and the Nobel prize in economic sciences; 2. The political economy of Adam Smith; 3. On the identities and functions attributed to the invisible hand; 4. Adam Smith's History of Astronomy argument: how broadly does it apply? And where do propositions which 'sooth the imagination' come from?; 5. Conceptual and substantive issues and problems; 6. The invisible hand in an uncertain world with an uncertain language; 7. The invisible hand as knowledge; 8. The invisible hand and the economic role of government; 9. The survival requirement of Pareto optimality; 10. Conclusions and further more

Review quote

'An unbelievably comprehensive account of what economists have meant by the invisible hand. This book should disabuse anyone of the notion that the concept is either simple or unproblematic.' Roger E. Backhouse, University of Birmingham 'The invisible hand is the iconic image in the discourse about economics. But it may also be the most chameleon-like of all economics images. No term in economics has meant so much, so differently, to so many. And no one has taken on the enormous task of sorting out and analyzing these many invisible hands ... until now. Warren Samuels makes a seminal contribution to the literature by taking us on a thorough and richly thoughtful analysis of the many meanings of the invisible hand. No one has the breadth and depth of vision to do it better.' Jerry Evensky, Syracuse University 'Adam Smith's invisible hand has often been presented as a foundational concept in economics, and one that provides the basic welfare justification for free markets. In this valuable book, Warren Samuels subjects the invisible hand concept to sustained critical examination. His work explodes the myths surrounding the concept and displays the many ambiguities and lacunae to be found in the conventional treatments. This book is both a testament to the power of the invisible hand metaphor and a vital and long overdue corrective to its misuse in economics.' Malcolm Rutherford, University of Victoria, Canada 'Anyone who thinks we haven't learned much since Adam Smith should peruse this book, with its painstaking discussion of several hundred subsequent commentators, in the service of showing Smith to have been the author of a matrix of mutually supporting interpretations of market order inevitably within an institutional framework. The result, as the poet says: 'And the end of all our journeying/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time'.' David Warsh, 'Warren Samuels has written an authoritative, detailed and mainly original contribution to scholarship, ably assisted by his collaborators, Marianne Johnston and William Perry.' Gavin Kennedy, EH.netshow more