May 13, 2017

Adam Smith Smiles

Have I mentioned that I like Deirdre McCloskey? Once or twice?

She has a short piece in Reason. And it is one of those you can hang your philosophical hat upon; it says -- in a few hundred words -- much of what I believe.

She has been taken to Shanghai and her hosts rush her to see The Bund: an attractive district of art deco buildings built by Europeans 100 years ago. But that was not what intrigued the historical economist:

But what gobsmacked me when we got out of the car wasn't the warmed-over continental architecture I'd been brought to admire. On the opposite side of the river rose the Pudong district. Thirty years ago Pudong was farmland, wretchedly farmed because it was collectivized. Then local Communist Party officials decided to plat it and put in water, sewerage, and a few roads--part of an experiment in opening up the economy that continues to this day.

Adam Smith pointed out that were perfect liberty required for prosperity, we'd have none. Entrepreneurs are like weeds in concrete. They'll find just what they need to subsist and, per chance, thrive.

And maybe, sometimes, with a little liberty and Bourgeois Dignity [Review Corner], a billion people (b-b-billion as my blog brother is wont to say!) escape desolate privation.

The bulk and busyness of the buildings proclaim: "Look what can be built in two short generations if the government will but do its modest job moderately competently, and for the rest leave people alone to profit themselves and enrich the nation." The Bund was the old center of 1920s economic modernity, and yet the ordinary Chinese at the time were rickshaw drivers to the Europeans. Now Shanghai and in particular Pudong are the new centers, and in a couple of more generations the ordinary Chinese will be as well off as Europeans.

Economics and Markets Posted by John Kranz at May 13, 2017 11:11 AM
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