Reclaiming Adam Smith, the Zen Priest

with Gustav Peebles
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Guest Introduction.

My guest today is Gustav Peebles: professor of economic anthropology at The New School, and author of an explosive essay on Adam Smith and the “Social Origins of Scarcity”, among others.

In our conversation, we explore:

  • The forgotten “splenetic” philosophy of Adam Smith, and how his Theory of Moral Sentiments challenges the popular notion of his economic vision
  • How the conflation of wealth with wisdom is bad for individuals, but great for society
  • How Adam Smith and Karl Marx agreed on false consciousness, but disagreed on what to do about it
  • Social dividends, public goods, UBI, and pencils as a great example of communism

Hope you enjoy!

Time map.

3:20 ~ The hijacking of Adam Smith

6:00 ~ In old age, people wake up and become “splenetic philosophers”, realizing the scarcity and value of time, lamenting how they’ve wasted their youth chasing after vanities, and get down to the business of wisdom.

13:00 ~ The self interest of society and the self interest of individuals appear to be at odds with one another.

15:40 ~ Where Adam Smith and Karl Marx disagreed on the value of scarcity.

18:30 ~ Pencils as the best example of a communist good.

22:45 ~ On Silvio Gesell, German economist who wrote on the idea of decaying money, largely facilitated by negative interest rates.

33:00 ~ How do utopian visions help ground and make sense of the trajectory for social evolution?

43:00 ~ Economics coming to reckon with interdependence. How does it change the discourse over policies like UBI to understand the benefits as “social dividends”, or “shares” in collective production, rather than redistributive transfer payments from one person’s earnings to another?

44:00 ~ Some anthropology of social dividends and collective production.

46:00 ~ On progressive taxation, public goods, and private property.

57:00 ~ What would Adam Smith say about the economy today?

Links from the conversation.
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