Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hoisted from comments- Saving Tim Harford!

Gavin Kennedy writes;
The problem with Tim Hardford’s account of the division of labour is this sentence:
“Adam Smith never actually visited a pin factory. While sitting at home in Kirkcaldy and penning the most famous passage in economics, he was inspired by an entry in an encyclopedia.”

Yet Adam Smith in Wealth Of Nations makes the specific statement that ‘I have seen a small manufactory of this kind [the process described as the ‘18 operations’ to produce pins] where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations’.

I have asked Tim Harford for the evidence for his assertion that he never visited a pin factory. He most likely took the French 18 operations from Diderot’s Encyclopedia (1755), which was also based on Chamber’s Cyclopaedia (1741).

But if Adam Smith states he visited a ‘small manufactory’ he almost certainly did. He most probably visited one of which there were several near him in Kirkcaldy (1766-73), though at the time when he first made notes on the division of labour in his ‘Early Draf’ (1762) he was teaching in Glasgow and there were many manufactories (small forges, etc.,) nearby.

I await Tim Harford’s explanation for his assertion

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.

1 comment:

Gavin Kennedy said...

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 colum non Lost legacy home page, where my original postings on Rothbard's (many) were collected.

The matter rests there until I receive an answer from David Warsh - a most thorough journalist, whom I have met - 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!).