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August 01, 1993|M.H.

D o people get what they deserve? Or does the marketplace distort how work is rewarded? MONDO RETRO takes you back to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1776, where Adam Smith is completing his pioneer book on laissez-faire economics, "The Wealth of Nations."

Mr. Smith, you think that the marketplace is, in fact, fair. Could you explain your theory of the Invisible Hand?

Aye, laddie. If each Person pursues his own Self-Interest, the Whole will benefit; for, d'ye ken, the Invisible Hand will ensure that whatever some People demand, it will profit Others to supply; and whatever is in too much Supply will not be worth Chicken Feed. Thus, Production and Human Wants will always come into Balance, and the Commonwealth will prosper.

Can you explain why, in my time, some baseball players can make $7 million a year, or more than $40,000 a game?

Because the Supply of Gentlemen who can hit a Major-League Curveball is sorely limited, and the Demand for them nearly infinite.

And can you explain why the people who work in convalescent hospitals, caring for the elderly--caring for us, it may turn out--can't make much more than the minimum wage?

Because the Supply of such Workers is far greater than the Number of Jobs available.

But isn't their work more important?

In the Eye of God, perhaps. Och, laddie! The Invisible Hand points not at what we should value, but at what in fact we do ; thus it is an infallible Barometer of our moral Climate. If you wish to change that, d'ye ken, have a Preacher exhort you. Leave us Economists out of it.

In your own 18th-Century Scotland, Mr. Smith, landowners' search for a higher return on capital is resulting in the Clearances. Thousands of tenants are being forced off their ancestral farms so that sheep can graze there. Is this fair?

In truth, this causes much Misery and Bitterness. The Invisible Hand, though unerring, is sometimes slow to adjust. Yet it may well be that this Surplus of landless Men may supply great Factories with Labor, and build a Prosperity greater than any we have known.

And the benefits will trickle down?

Well put, laddie. Had I but said that!

Your disciples will. Look, Mr. Smith. Nobody does more important work than the director of a nursery school--a post Tria Mintz has held for 34 years at Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Nobody ever gets rich doing it, either. Yet, at 7 p.m. today, the temple will honor Mintz on her retirement with a concert by pianists Mona Golabek and Renee Golabek Kaye, followed by a dessert reception. Tickets: $30 and $50. Information: (310) 652-7353. How does this fit into your theory?

Och! I have spoken of brute economic Forces; but in the Realm of Sentiment, are Love and Dedication ever in Surplus? Do they ever meet the Demand? No. Then why should you not reward this Lady generously in her own Coin?

So you're saying that at today's concert, we'll hear another kind of Invisible Hand clapping?


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