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Viewpoint: The falsity of the invisible hand

Economics is a subject as touchy as it is vague. Often elusive, economics lends itself to mysticism and capital slight of hand, making fiscal peasants of most of the country. Many philosophies would dictate the spread of wealth and the generation of revenue, redistributing the responsibilities implicit within those tasks across the constituency and federal establishment.

Socialism, in all of its contexts, would employ the collective responsibility to provide for the needs of a nation. Ranging from Marxism to our welfare policy, it stresses the needs of the whole above the personal accomplishments and progress of individuals. Simply put, socialism works to ensure collective good and equality by distributing wealth generated by its citizens to all the citizens within that nation.

Capitalism moves to ensure personal responsibility as trade for personal security. An individual secures his or her own financial stability. It is the purest form of Darwinism in the lucrative sense, allowing for the fittest specimens to rise to prominence. This responsibility drives revenue and industry ahead, improving the standard of living for the entire country and profiting those at the helm of the capitalist cruise the most.

Interestingly, neither of these philosophies are seen in purity today. America has its welfare programs, and Sweden its manufacturing and exports, leaving even Red China to turn a deep maroon, causing a cultural revolution in its treasury. The fact of the matter is simply that neither system holds all the keys to ensuring a prosperous and equitable nation.

Adam Smith was a nobleman and an inherent optimist. Aside from having arguably the most common name in the English language, he also theorized the concept of “The Invisible Hand. Speaking in his book “The Wealth of Nations,” Smith said that “he (the capitalist) intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

While this romantic idea may have been true in 1776, it seems to lack a bit of pragmatism for today’s ills. The notion that the invisible hand would, as a natural end of its course, lead business to work for the good of the people is tragically absent from today’s marketplace.

The natural conclusion would be for government to intercede, to regulate and liberate the people from the capitalist monster. Working to ensure the commonwealth of a nation’s citizens is of the utmost importance to a government, but frequently the execution of that importance is muddied by private interest, petty disputes and the occasional bridge closure or national security measure, showing a not-so-invisible hand directing commerce to (or away) from smaller factions within the government.

The difficulty with the mentalities of either the invisible hand or the federal hand within our economy is the inherent trust involved. Business has shown that, if left unattended, it will profit itself before its customers, leaving a delay, if not a drought, in the trickle-down effect. Government over-regulates, leading to debacles that leave government benefited, business regulated and regular people aggravated.

The solution? It would be brilliant if we at The Signpost had one. While we are not economists, we are familiar with great writing. Perhaps the best take on fiscal responsibility could be summarized by another non-economist, William Shakespeare. Said Will, “Love all, trust a few, and do wrong to none.”

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