2016/06/26 Knowledge Forum
Thread: Adam Smith “The Wealth of Nations”
Book 1 Chapter 11 Part 2 “Produce of Land which sometimes does, and sometimes does not, afford Rent”
In returning to this chapter I am hoping to answer three questions:
a. Does Smith's argument hold up for his time, viewed 240 years hence
b. Does Smith's argument hold up for the era of 2016
c. Does Smith's argument hold up for future directions human kind may take.
Part 2 begins with this assertion:
After food, cloathing and lodging are the two great wants of mankind.
From the perspective of 2016, I find this summary of human needs to be insufficient.
Abraham Maslow published the paper which first exposed his concept of a Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. It seems to me that Adam Smith was properly focused upon the lowest level of Maslow's Hierarchy, in his attempt to understand the economy of his time, and the human behaviors which had led to it. Looking out at the United States of 2016, I think I am seeing a deficiency, not of supply of basic needs, but supply (for lack of a better word) of higher order needs.
Of these unmet needs, I think I am glimpsing the “need to be needed”.
The concept of a “job” in this society (it seems to me) encapsulates a structure within which a person can pretend to be needed, even if the tasks to be completed are of a rudimentary nature.
In Smith's day, starvation was a very real threat, so people at the lower levels of society were unlikely to be overly concerned with higher level needs as as Maslow's “self actualization”.
Part 2 of Chapter 11 contains several gems of Smith's observation.
One of these is found on page 188:
But when by the improvement and cultivation of land the labour of one family can provide food for two, the labour of half the society becomes sufficient to provide food for the whole. The other half, therefore, or at least the greater part of them, can be employed in providing other things, or in satisfying the other wants and fancies of mankind.
In the United States of 2016, a figure of 2% of the population is often estimated as providing food for the entire population, as well as for export to consumers in other nations. Thus, by Smith's reasoning, it might be presumed that 98% of the population are either entirely unemployed, or employed in making and distributing “wants and fancies”.
A topic of current conversation in the middle of 2016, is the lack of “jobs” for people who want them, but for whom there are no jobs available that match the combination of their skills, education, aptitude, attitude and location.
In Part 2 of Chapter 11, Smith considers mines as having fertility and situation. It is the combination of these characteristics, compared to the most fertile mines with the best situation, that determines whether they are work working. It seems to me that something similar is happening in these times, if people can be compared to mines of Smith's day.
Where I hope to end up over the course of these weekly ruminations is with a conclusion that the economy of the planet Earth of 2016 can support a class of distant communities with digital communications reflecting the greater variety of capability of the larger population, while at the same time providing a large and ready market for digital communications from the smaller populations, who may yet offer insights or achievements not occurring elsewhere.
May every member of The Knowledge forum grow financially, intellectually, socially and beyond.