Tyler Cowen on Adam Smith

Tyler Cowen delivered the keynote address at this year’s meeting of the International Adam Smith Society (IASS), which is being held in Bogota, Colombia. The first question from the audience (at minute 50 of the video) is from yours truly.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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8 Responses to Tyler Cowen on Adam Smith

  1. I will watch this video and report back within the next couple of days.

    • I will write up a more substantive review as well …

      • I finished watching Cowen’s lecture today, and … holy crap! A lot of interesting insights were not only expressed by Dr. Cowen, but also by audience members in the Q&A portion.

        Enrique, great question on your part.

        First and foremost, Smith as a military strategist; this revelation blew my mind. Granted, I have only read WONS once and I am not a professional academic, but that has to be one of the most innovative readings of Smith that I have ever come across.

        I understand Cowen is only interpreting Smith, but I do have my qualms (ethically) about unity being derived from being part of a contiguous military institution/ nation. While I would never insinuate that Smith and Cowen would never justify imperialism this logic could be bent to advocate for such ends.

        Then again, I need to check my priors at the door as I am predisposed to favor polycentric governance. Chris Coyne at George Mason provided me with the intellectual scaffolding to favor privatization of defenses and security services. But I would be a fool to not acknowledge that standing armies have the advantage of economies of scale. Despite the apprehensions of some Americans during the ratifcation period; fragmented militias cannot perform at the same level as a nationalized standing army. For the coordination costs alone! Decentralized militias only work if everyone uses this institutional arrangement, otherwise you have a Prisoner’s Dilemma on your hands.

        I was also struck by the discussion of how Smith was not necessarily comospolitian. It made me realize that we all may have imposed this attribute of Smith’s world view , due to his advocacy of free trade. Per some of Cowen’s responses to audience questions, maybe free trade (while it helps foster and maintain relationships) it possibly isn’t as strong of a mechanism of cohesion as a shared faith or language (think Mises in Human Action, in the sections he discusses enthno-lingustic groups). The high brow ideals of multiculturalism will only get us so far in achieving co-existence internationally, as this elite taste does not translate outside the circles of the liberal-minded intellectuals. Cowen does have a point.

        There decision about the decline religiosity was also very engaging. I suppose that since smaller countries are more communal, people do not need a religious community to not feel alienated. Here in the States, we are becoming more atomized, I personally feel it myself. Whether or not a country can pull of the “Denmark thing”, is a matter of scale. Larger nations do not have the advantage when it comes to this characteristic of having an orderly secular society.

      • ** I would never insinuate that Smith or Cowen would favor imperialism, this logic could be bent to justify such ends.

      • agreed, but that is the problem with standing armies: contra Smith, they make it easier to crush the opposition and to pursue imperialist ends

      • Agreed. Since standing armies lower the costs of coordinating armed conflicts; I would argue that it has made war more efficient which is not necessarily a positive thing.

        When combined with modern weapons, the death toll increases drastically,

        I personally oppose military intervention, therefore, I struggle to speak positively on the development of standing armies. However, on the flip-side possessing a large army (while a potentially wasteful expenditure) , could operate as an effective deterrent for rogue nations looking to start trouble. (not that the US should be the world police), but are you going to want to provoke a nation with a nuclear arsenal and a large army?

        Most rational actors will not want to take on that challenge. Radical Islamic terrorists, who believe they will achieve martyrdom after death might be the rare exception. Even North Korea knows better, they are just playing the old Soviet-era game of brinksmanship. Then again, I could be wrong.

      • it’s why I also dislike the jargon of “state capacity”

      • Cowen has done some interesting work, but his doctrine of state capacity libertarianism, doesn’t work for me.

        It might be a pragmatic compromise, but the rules of the American political game have changed. Compromise and measured responses are out. Hence, why it seems like both sides of the aisle are getting crazier by the day.

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