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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Task of the Economist in an Age of Mercantilism

Adam Smith’s effort was quite literally subversive of the existing order and of the set of attitudes that supported this order.

The following quote is from page 28 of Vol. 12 – Economic Inquiry and Its Logic (2000) – of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan; specifically, it’s from Jim’s 1976 article “General Implications of Subjectivism in Economics” (link added):

Adam Smith was offering an alternative vision of how an economy might work.  It was necessary to provide this alternative vision before the mercantilist blinders could be removed.  Smith’s effort was, in this quite literal sense, subversive of the existing order and of the set of attitudes that supported this order.  I see no reason why our task in 1976 is any different from that in 1776.  We must offer a vision of economic process that is not natural to man’s ordinary ways of thinking.  And faith in the efficacy of spontaneous coordination arises only from a thorough understanding which only economists are equipped to transmit.

And so the task remains in 2017, as important as ever.  The fallacies of mercantilism are today on the loose as I have never before seen them in my lifetime.  The soon-to-be new president of the United States talks and tweets as if he’s a machine programmed to spit out in rapid fire 17th-century mercantilist mantras, slogans, and half-truths.  No duty for an economist ranks higher than the duty of countering – patiently, skillfully, eloquently, and as repetitiously as necessary – this dangerous misunderstanding.

Republished from Cafe Hayek.

  • Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University.