Kapelyushnikov Rostislav
Multihanded Adam Smith (Part one)
Publication Type:

DOI 10.32609/0042-8736-2023-10-53-74

The paper analyzes the metaphor of “an invisible hand”, which was introduced two and a half centuries ago by Adam Smith (1723—1790) and which eventually became the central concept of modern economics. Its first part presents a detailed textual analysis of three fragments from Smith’s works where it is discussed — in the posthumously published “The history of astronomy” (1796), “The theory of moral sentiments” (1757) and “The wealth of nations” (1776). A question arises what meaning Smith put into his metaphor and what significance he attached to it — was there some important general idea behind it or was it merely a passing rhetoric device? There is also no consensus among historians of economic thought what interpretation is more correct — theological (in this case, the “invisible hand” is attributed to the Divine Providence directing it) or secular (in this case, it acts autonomously, without control from any external powers). In addition to “an invisible hand”, we also find in Smith’s texts “the visible hand” of the state, and he leaves no doubt on whose side his sympathies are.

Keywords: Adam Smith | invisible hand | unintended results | coordination | spontaneous order |


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