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They Think We’re Stupid

They think we're stupid. President Obama, the GOP and the Democratic Party. All of ‘em think we are d-u-m-m.

On the floor of the House of Representatives a few months back, Iowa Republican Steve King declared: "On this side of the aisle are the people that believe in free enterprise, the invisible hand, Adam Smith's vision, Adam Smith's dream. You folks," he told his Democrat colleagues, "do not."

Then, just last week during Obama's Q & A with Democrat leaders, the president said: "We've got to make sure that our party understands that, like it or not, we have to have a financial system that is healthy and functioning, so we can't be demonizing every bank out there. We've got to be the party of business."

Ah, Adam Smith. Business. Yup. They think we're dumb. Like we don't know how to read or something.

Adam Smith?! You mean the Scottish moral philosopher that authored the Bible of modern economics, The Wealth of Nations, which gives the Declaration of Independence a run for its money as the most influential thing to be published in 1776?

Fragments of his philosophy have become holy writ in the corridors of American power and are familiar to any Econ 101 student.

There's: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

And then there's Smith's observation that the tradesman "intends only his own gain, and he is in this...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 intends to promote it."

Of course, we dummies are not supposed to notice that Smith was writing in the 1700s when there was no such thing as market-dominating, multi-national corporations, just mostly small family businesses. We're also supposed to forget that most market transactions of Smith's day were between buyers and sellers. There wasn't a cottage industry of middlemen or all-the-time-in-your-face marketing.

The very same Smith before which Rep. King genuflected warned of the dangers of monopolies and excess profits! Try talking about the dangers of monopolies and excess profits in today's political arena and see who's the first to jump up in ridicule. It's the Steve Kings of the world. And Obama leading the Democrats by the nose right behind their King.

We're supposed to overlook where Smith says "joint stock companies," or corporations, are inherently irresponsible, and that he could only think of a small number of commercial initiatives that justified their existence. And, Smith wrote, where these irresponsible enterprises could be justified, they should be subject to careful public oversight and government control.

Even the tea baggers, as we saw at the "populist" Tea Party convention over the weekend, love to talk about "small government" while completely ignoring Smith's point about the concentration of wealth, excess profits and the need to keep big business in check via the government in order to have a truly free market; as if there isn't a huge difference between narrow, naked, self-interest and the enlightened self-interest that Smith (and that other conservative intellectual hero, Alexis de Tocqueville) articulated.

Like I said, they think we're stupid. Like we don't read. Like we don't know that Adam Smith said "the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments" and, therefore, "the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations ... has no occasion to exert his understanding ... and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be."

Like we don't know that Adam Smith said the mind-numbing effect of "ordinary employments" is a condition which "the great body of the people must necessarily fall, unless government takes pains to prevent it" (emphasis mine).

Everybody loves Adam Smith, until they read him and understand that the small business free-market he envisioned is a far cry from the predatory corporate capitalism we have today.

So just to prove we're not brain-dead, I'm going to send my Congressional rep and senators a copy of "The Wealth of Nations" with the portions of the book they like to ignore in highlights. Maybe you should, too.

I'm tellin' ya, they think we're dumb. Like we don't read. Like we're a nation of fools. And we're not. Are we?

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Sean Gonsalves

Sean Gonsalves is a columnist and editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at

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