Feb 13Liked by nescio13

Interesting piece, thank you Eric!

Note that in Letter XIII of Defence of Usury, Bentham writes to Smith:

The career of art, the great road which receives the footsteps of projectors, may be considered as a vast, and perhaps unbounded, plain, bestrewed with gulphs, such as Curtius was swallowed up in. [note from me, Dan Klein: Marcus Curtius was a Roman hero. When one day a gap suddenly appeared on the Forum in Rome, an oracle said that it could only be closed by the most precious thing Rome possessed. The wellbeing of the town depended on it. Curtius sacrificed himself by jumping fully armed and mounted on the finest horse into the gap, which then closed itself.] Each requires an human victim to fall into it ere it can close, but when it once closes, it closes to open no more, and so much of the path is safe to those who follow. If the want of perfect information of former miscarriages renders the reality of human life less happy than this picture, still the similitude must be acknowledged: and we see at once the only plane effectual method for bringing the similitude still near to perfection; I mean, the framing the history of the projects of time past, and (what may be executed in much greater perfection were but a finger held up by the hand of government) the making provision for recording, and collecting and publishing as they are brought forth, the race of those with which the womb of futurity is still pregnant. But to pursue this idea, the execution of which is not within my competence, would lead me too far from the purpose.

The passage appears on p. 397 of the Correspondence of Adam Smith.

I agree that Smith saw the initiation of coercion as inherent in government intervention (and taxation). See pp. 38–39, 118, 208 here:


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Thank you for reminding me of this passage. Yes, I read Bentham as advocating experimentalism in agency even in the face of imperfect knowledge. It's not entirely obvious to me how solid his grounds are for blocking such experimentalism in collective agency

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