01 September 2006

Adam Smith vs. Walter Shandy

Adam Smith rightly gets credit for formalizing the philosophy of free-market capitalism, with his masterwork, The Wealth of Nations (available in full, online), published in 1776. A somewhat radical read, even today, Smith argued against protectionism, governmental subsidies and monopolies, and the restrictive practices prevalent in his day and ours.

Those same anti-capitalistic tendencies are in effect today, paying farmers to let their fields lie fallow, granting trademarks in perpetuity, and giving out stupid patents so the USPTO can pay its own operating costs. Conspiracy theorists even believe that engines running on water have been developed and their creators silenced by big oil. (Then again, it's not like Detroit is jumping on the ethanol bandwagon.)

I've been reading Tristram Shandy, and was amazed at this very Republican sentiment - satiric in Sterne's case, unlike our modern GOP heroes of business:

But pray, Dr. Slop, quoth my father, interrupting my uncle, (tho' not without begging pardon for it, at the same time) upon what principles was this self-same chariot set a-going?----Upon very pretty principles to be sure, replied Dr. Slop;—and I have often wondered, continued he, evading the question, why none of our Gentry, who live upon large plains like this of ours,---(especially they whose wives are not past child-bearing) attempt nothing of this kind; for it would not only be infinitely expeditious upon sudden calls, to which the sex is subject,—if the wind only served,—but would be excellent good husbandry to make use of the winds, which cost nothing, and which eat nothing, rather than horses, which (the Devil take 'em) both cost and eat a great deal.

For that very reason, replied my father, "Because they cost nothing, and because they eat nothing,"—the scheme is bad;—it is the consumption of our products, as well as the manufactures of them, which gives bread to the hungry, circulates trade,—brings in money, and supports the value of our lands;—and tho', I own, if I was a Prince, I would generously recompence the scientifick head which brought forth such contrivances;—yet I would as peremptorily suppress the use of them.
Now, I'm no free-market libertarian, but I certainly prefer a free market to the virtual oligarchy we have today. After 200 years of the Smith experiment, we find ourselves pretty much where we started.


Angela said...

Wow, you sure are edumacated on politics. I wish I had something intelligent and insightful to add...but nah. You're shit outta luck.

Brian B. said...

Corn is about the worst damn plant you can make ethanol out of. Sugar Cane is the best.
So why aint we pushing hard to use that instead? Or how about Switch Grass, which has the added benefit of being able to grow in really crappy land where little else will?
Gotta protect them thar corn farmers eh?
e85 aint worth spit until we get away from using corn to make it.

R.A. Porter said...

We've got to do something with all that surplus corn. Better to fuel our cars than make even more crappy soda.

I agree with you, of course. "We" push corn because the corn-states' Congressmen and Senators push for it. They push so hard because there's a lot of lobbying money from ConAgra and Cargill and kin being thrown at them. However, moving toward multi-fuel engines isn't a bad idea; in fact, with the dire straits of GM, I think it might be a good avenue to take in order to win some brownie points, if nothing else.

While better and various bio-products can and should be pursued for ethanol production, carbon-neutrality is still a good short-term goal.

Angela said...

Let me get this straight...this post was about canola oil and excess popcorn?

Holy shit, I must have been higher than I thought last night and right now.

R.A. Porter said...

How could you miss it? It's all about the Jiffy Pop car. But Dick Cheney, the World Bank, and the Trilateral Commission have killed the creators and buried all their schematics. I'm taking a great risk just talking about it, frankly.

That, and Tesla's electric Pierce Arrow.

Brian B. said...

Dang, that Tesla thing is funny!

Anyways, I do fully agree that we need to use multifuels. But GM has been developing this for years, they just don't get credit for it. All the tree huggers are too busy screeching about them dropping electric cars that NOBODY DAMN WELL BOUGHT.