Thursday, November 16, 2006

Some Correspondence

"Dear Mr. Buckley:

In your recent column praising Milton Friedman [NR, Feb. 17] you mention Adam Smith's discussion of entrepeneurs' 'animal spirits'. The full quote is: 'A large proportion of our positive actions depend on spontaneous optimism rather than on a mathematical expectation, whether moral or hedonistic or economic. Most, probably of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as a result of animal spirits - of a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities... Only a little more than an expedition to the South Pole, is [enterprise] based on an exact calculation of benefits to come. Thus if the animal spirits are dimmed and the spontaneous optimisim falters, leaving us to depend on nothing but a mathematical expectation, enterprise will fade and die.' Unfortunately for your desire to appear as a bona-fide conservative, this is from John Maynard Keynes's General Theory, not Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.

Some time ago Dr. Friedman reread Keynes and found more wisdom there than appears among his so-called Keynesian followers. Perhaps you would find the same." -- Robert Vienneau in "Notes & Asides", National Review (2 March 1992)

"Dear Mr. Vienneau: Drat! Because I know that Keynes quote. And the fault was not Mr. Friedman's. He said Keynes, I miswrote Smith. Thanks for reminding me of that striking passage. You are welcome to reproduce it and send it to all Democratic legislators." -- William F. Buckley, ibid

"Dear Mr. Vienneau

Bill Buckley sent on to me a copy of your letter of January 16 commenting on his use of the term 'animal spirits' in his column. You are of course right and, though Bill's column was based on a long discussion with me, I doubt very much that I was the source of his misattribution since I know full well that the term is Keynes's.

However, I write not for that reason but to express my pleasure in finding a reader out there in the wilds who recalls a comment I first published twenty years ago, and recalls it so accurately. Many thanks." -- Milton Friedman, Personal Communication (10 February 1992)

"Dear Dr. Friedman

I was deeply honored to receive your letter of February 10. Thanks for the compliments." -- Robert Vienneau, Personal Communication (25 February 1992)

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