Invisible hand

The metaphor of the “invisible hand” coined by Adam Smith is one of those metaphors that does more damage to the concept behind it than any possible antagonist could.

Why, in fact?

The question of an agent

This metaphor is powerful because it refers to something that every human can understand – the hand. The hand cannot be anything other than a tool of an agent. This agent can either be physical (a part of a concrete body, a concrete agent in a Gea biotope) or metaphysical, like God. In either case and all cases, it is clear that we cannot attach the hand to something that is not an agent. We cannot perceive a hand without a particular force with a specific interest moving it, and that is an agent.

Unfortunately for the metaphor, and fortunately for Adam Smith, what he meant by that metaphor goes directly in the opposite direction, to be understood as some kind of agent behind the market. The essence of a market is that there is no agent behind it. Just as there is no agent (homunculus theorem) behind human brains, there is no hidden force embodied in the hand metaphor. There is no central command over human brains. There is no agent behind human brains. Human brains are part of a more extensive network (meme complex) and reproduce that network, in other words, co-evolving meme-complex.

Market as emergent property

The market is an emergent property of a complex value system that is there for the sake of exchange.

For this reason, it is impossible for a theist to truly understand and (or) support the free market (while the deist can at least in principle). Either he believes in an invisible hand (of God) and thus contradicts the concept of the free market, or he understands the free market and thus excludes any possibility of such a God having any influence on human life. For: the essence of human life is an exchange of goods. When this exchange is enforced, when values are centrally dictated, it is no longer an exchange but a dictatorship. When God dictates the value of a thing, it is no longer a human value. Human values are emergent properties of “us” only when they result from the exchange in the free market of values. When we understand that there is no difference between the value of a meme and the value of any good; when we understand that the value of a good is encapsulated in the value of a brand (meme), then we see that we live in only one market: the free market of exchange of memes (values). No invisible hand governs this market. We are our own enemies (and friends).

Socialist are theists

An even more compelling argument goes in the opposite direction. If an atheist believes in a centrally controlled market (welfare state), he is a theist! He is, in effect, pretending to be an atheist and living in cognitive dissonance. You can’t be an atheist and support the welfare state at the same time.

I would venture to say that it is precisely the fear of “me” being the only one responsible that causes humanity to dream of some sort of invisible hand that would absolve “me” of that responsibility. This is why we like to talk so much about humanism (something abstract, there somewhere…) rather than homonism, which posits individual responsibility.

Andrej Drapal