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The Fallacy of Adam's Fallacy

Stephen J. Grabill


What Foley calls Adams Fallacy is what previous commentators, including Robert Heilbroner, his late colleague at the New School for Social Research and author of the classic book The Worldly Philosophers, have labeled the Adam Smith Problem but with a subtle new twist. In fairness, Foley thinks that many of Smiths claims in Wealth of Nations are not fallacious at all. For example, he writes, it is undoubtedly true that self-interest is a powerful motivating force for human beings (though far from being the only one). It is also true that harnessing the pursuit of self-interest through competitive capitalist markets can be (though it is not invariably) a powerful mechanism for fostering progressive technical change and producing material wealth. He thus carefully avoids the popular mantra that all pursuit of self-interest through competitive markets is morally suspect. But, alas, the story does not end here.

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