Sunday, 20 January 2008

More on Harford on Smith (updated x2)

In this post on Tim Harford's new book, The Logic of Life I noted that Gavin Kennedy asked of Harford,
My question to the Undercover Economist is simple. 'On what do you base your assertion that Adam Smith never visited a pin factory?'
Now Marshall Jevons at The Bayesian Heresy offer this explanation;
Harford refers to David Warsh's book, chapter 3 in the references. It is actually chapter 4.
"These first three chapters and the plan of the book provided the whole kernel of what we would call today a theory of growth. Much stress has been laid over the years on the significance of the description of the pin factory. In fact Smith never visited one. Apparently he based his account on an article in an encyclopedia. Never mind that Smith was widely traveled and sharply observant everywhere he went. His failure to expend much shoe-leather in this case has occasionally been cited to discredit him. Such cavils entirely miss the point."
-Knowledge and Wealth of Nations, p. 40 ( you can go to Amazon’s search inside the book feature)
No Tim Harford didn't lie, he was just quoting David Warsh.
So according to Jevons, it is David Warsh who may be at fault. On checking my copy of Knowledge and Wealth of Nations Warsh does make this claim. So I guess the question now is, What is Warsh's evidence for his claim?

Update: Gavin Kennedy has brought things up to date at his Adam Smith Lost Legacy blog, see the posting David Warsh is Named as the Source for the Allegation that Adam Smith Did Not Visit a Pin Factory.

Update 2: See The game is up? for a summary of David Warsh's response to Kennedy.

1 comment:

Gavin Kennedy said...

Hi Paul

I have responded to Marshall jevons at Bayesian Heresy as below and this brings up to dat where matters stand:

"Hi Marshal Jevons

Thank you for your comments.

Tim Harford has sent me the reference to David Warsh's book and, since hearing directly from Tim Harford, I have now re-ordered the book as my copy is in France. I live in Edinburgh.

Let's get this clear. I did not accuse Tim Harford of lying - I have said that the source of this story (whom I believe was Murray Rothbard) was lying, or at the very, very best was grieviously, if not mischieviouly, mistaken.

I have commented on this incident in Lost Legacy (Jan 2006), or you may check the lefthand column on Lost Legacy's home page, where my original postings on Rothbard's (many) errors were collected.

The matter rests there until I receive an answer from David Warsh - a most thorough journalist, whom I have met and had interesting discussion with - and from whom I have asked for his source.

In the meantime, I shall suspend further public comment, but I do not expect to have to make a retraction as is required of scholars who find they are in error. It is also normal for journalists to do so too (and, I hope, Bloggers!)."


PS While I am waiting for David Warsh to reply I wonder if you could report if he provides a reference to his assertion. Be clear, the source of this calumny is no David Warsh; it was Murray Rothbard.