Ne obetajte si preveč oziroma ne pričakujte recepta. Prvi problem je, da si Adama Smitha vsak interpretira po svoje, tako kot najbolje ustreza filozofiji tistega, ki Smitha navaja. Tisti na desnici ga uporabljajo, da upravičijo svoje videnje o absolutnosti ekonomske svobode in prostega trga. Tisti na levici pa, da ga lahko prikažejo kot tržnega fundamentalista in vse, kar spada zraven – od homo economicusa, racionalnih pričakovanj do hipoteze o učinkovitih trgih.
V bistvu pa je bil Smith izjemno subtilen mislec, ki je sicer trdil, da so trgi izjemno učinkoviti glede organizacije dela, hkrati pa tudi naravno nagnjeni h koncentraciji in zlorabam tržne moči. Zato je trge treba postaviti v kontekst družbe in v odvisnost od države, ki delovanje trgov omogoča in jih hkrati regulira.
Drugi problem pa je, da Smith seveda nima nobenih receptov. Pač pa si lahko v duhu konceptov njegovih edinih del (Teorija moralnih sentimentov in Bogastvo narodov) predstavljamo, kakšna bi bila “Smithovska” rešitev za sedanje čase. Evo, v Smitha se je poglobil in za nas je to v Financial Timesu zapisal Jesse Norman, konzervativni poslanec, ki bo naslednji mesec izdal knjigo “Adam Smith: What He Thought, and Why it Matters“. Norman je “Smithovo recepturo” za današnje težave zaobjel v istem duhu, kot ga jaz razumem (saj pravim, da tukaj ni objektivnosti, pač pa le svoboda interpretacije idej nekoga, ki se ne more braniti), se pravi, da morajo, kadar se kapitalizem tako zapleza v smeri monopolizacije, zlorab tržne moči, dominacije finančne industrije in padajočega deleža dela v razdelitvi BDP, države prevzeti odgovornost in ga reformirati. Uvesti več regulacije konkurence, več regulacije finančnega sektorja in dvigniti plače na raven, ki pritiče družbenim normam glede dostojnega življenja.
Vse to je Smith zahteval že v svojem času in za svoj čas – pred 250 leti.
Smith was not an advocate of laissez-faire; the phrase “invisible hand” occurs just once in The Wealth of Nations; and he did not oppose all state interventions in markets. Indeed, he positively advocates a range of them, from specific forms of taxation to regulation of the banks.
He did not think selfishness was a virtue, and he was not a misogynist; far from originating the idea of “market fundamentalism”, he would have opposed it; and homo economicus and the efficient market hypothesis are later ideas that badly distort Smith’s own views. Industrial capitalism itself, as the combination of freely trading markets and autonomous corporations, is a 19th-century phenomenon, and only emerged two generations after his death.
The real Adam Smith is a vastly wiser and more subtle thinker. He forces us to discard the usual simplistic slogans and tired clichés. But more than this: he still has a vast amount to teach us, not merely about economics and markets and trade, but about the deepest issues of inequality, culture and human society facing us today. Far from attacking Smith, we must turn to him again. For we cannot understand, or address, the problems of the modern world without him.
First, we need to recognise that The Wealth of Nations is a work of genius not merely because it sets out many of the central intellectual tools of political economy — the division of labour, the idea of market equilibrium, the effects of incentives on behaviour, the benefits of free trade, Smith’s four maxims of taxation, to list just a few — but because Smith is the first person to put markets at the centre of economics itself. Smith is thus the hinge of our economic modernity, just as Burke, with his theory of political parties and representative government, is the hinge of our political modernity.
But, second, markets for Smith are very different to those of economists today. They are not the disembodied mathematical constructs of modern economics and policymaking, and his view of individuals is not that of a desiccated economic atomism. Rather — recalling his insights about language and ethics — markets are living institutions embedded in specific cultures and mediated by social norms and trust. They shape and are shaped by their participants, in a dynamic and evolving way. They often have common features, but they are as different from one another as individual humans are: markets for land and labour and capital, asset markets from product markets and all the innumerable rest of them.
Yes, markets typically generate economic value, and they are unmatched in their ability to allocate goods and services and encourage innovation and technological improvement. But, third, what matters is not the largely empty rhetoric of “free markets”, but the reality of effective competition. And effective competition requires mechanisms that force companies to internalise their own costs and not push them on to others, that bear down on crony capitalism, rent extraction, “insider” vs “outsider” asymmetries of information and power, and political lobbying.
Fourth, markets constitute a socially constructed and evolving order that exists and must exist not by divine right but because it serves the public good. It follows from this that the modern doctrine of market failure, which derives from academic models assuming perfect competition, needs to be expanded and supplemented. The truth is that outside academic models there are few if any genuinely free markets, and the imagined benefits of perfect markets disappear once any imperfections are allowed. Instead, policymakers need to start by asking two much simpler questions: What is this specific market for? How is it actually working?
Fifth, for the same reason, both individual markets and the market order itself rely on the state. While political intervention can destroy market functioning, it can also enable it. But markets are not inviolable, and they derive their reason for being not from any supposed sanctity of capitalism itself, but from their place within modern commercial society. Ultimately, especially within democracies, it falls to the state to underwrite that legitimacy. And if the preservation of the freedoms, trust and order that make up modern commercial society requires the periodic reform of capitalism, then reform it we must.
Vir: Jesse Norman, Financial Times