Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Harmony of Economics

Don Boudreaux links to an interesting looking paper by Daniel Klein on musical analogies in Adam Smith's writing - specifically in the Theory of Moral Sentiments. Klein writes that:

"Adam Smith often used musical and synchronous figures of speech to convey
the notion of sympathy, as when our sentiments “keep time together.” In this
way Smith explored social cooperation or “harmony.”"
Smith was not alone in the use of this analogy, though. Two other cases immediately come to my mind - Bastiat's Economic Harmonies, and Carey's The Harmony of Interests, both of which remark on the point that interests that at first glance seem to conflict actually progress in harmony and are naturally complementary. I seem to remember this sort of language being applied to republican political philosophy in Drew McCoy's The Elusive Republic as well. Liberalism and republicanism are dispositions that have always emphasized the inherent harmony of society, despite the superficial chaos. The harmony is that much more impressive when we relaize that there is order to that chaos.

Does anyone else have any other examples of thinking about human society or political economy in terms of "harmony"? I'm sure there are many.


  1. In a way all of 19th century sociology can be described this way - see August Comte, structural-functionalism, Durkheim, etc.

    You see similar ideas in the works of Plato and Aristotle (depending how you read them); in many of the Roman writers, etc.

  2. And its probably ultimately the classics that are the source of all this 18th and 19th century work with the analogy.

    I've read more Durkheim than Comte - do you recall if they specifically appeal to this sort of analogy? It's definitely implicit in their work.

  3. Evan read a lot of Comte recently - do you have thoughts on it?


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