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The Invisible Hand

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In 1776, writer Adam Smith came up with a theory: when lots of buyers and lots of sellers get together, the resulting "market price" that emerges through all that buying and selling is in fact the work of an "invisible hand." He meant god. We think he really meant "emergence." This segment, we go looking for invisible hands in a variety of places: at an ox-guessing contest in Plymoth, England, in the roiling mass of traders in the "pit" of the New York Securities and Exchange, and also in the secret recipe that makes Google such a great search engine. Author Steven Johnson explains the art of Google-bombing. Producer Ben Rubin presents the bottom-up organization of stock trading in sound.

Comments [7]

Susan Urban from Silver Spring, Maryland

Given that this program segment was first aired 4 1/2 years ago, I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Jad Abumrad's error, nor has it been corrected: He referred to the "average, midpoint, or mean" of a set of numbers. When referring to a set of numbers, "average" and "mean" are equivalent terms. However, "midpoint"--also known as "median"--is an entirely different concept and is often different from the "average" or "mean" of the set.

Nov. 23 2014 12:42 PM

There is a typo in the description "Plymoth, England" is misspelled I think.

Nov. 10 2013 09:12 PM

Hi this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have
to manually code with HTML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

Mar. 07 2013 10:57 AM
David Tennant from Bay City, MI

Radiolab is mind expanding. Adam Smith was not pointing to GOD with his "invisible hand". He was refering to the spontanious organization which occurs when many who have (necessarily) incomplete information comprise a larger (and more complete) market. A Thinking Beings "emergence". (Well, we like to "think" that we are "Thinking Beings")

Jan. 28 2012 03:23 PM
Brad from Earth

Allison -

Have you ever read Smith's major works? The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Cause and Nature of the Wealth of Nations are both extremely nuanced works (of a deep genius in my view.) Smith deserves more than that - to close yourself off to him on a false assumption that he was simple "a man who held a pipe dream" is an anti-intellectual caricature. Once you have read him thoroughly try to write that statement again - you won't be able to, I suspect.

Sep. 06 2010 08:53 PM
Allison from Nevada

Adam Smith was theorizing about the "emergence" of a force that was supposed to naturally guide people into making self-oriented economic decisions that somehow manage to benefit all the members of capitalistic societies. We now know that the emergence of an invisible hand has not occurred and that his idea of pure capitalism was a pipe dream.

Jun. 28 2008 04:48 PM
Gary (I wish it had been Cooper) Betts from Suburb of Lexington, KY, (Versaillesj

Radio Lab is about the best thing (and one of
the few good things left) on radio. I am blown away (at almost 70) by what I did not know, and still do not know, but have the privilege (for I do not know how long) of pondering as a result of listening to Radio Lab. It is amazing and I am grateful to all the people who put it together and make it available.

As a retired whatchamacallit, who moved back to the place where I thought I had roots (they have since withered away, maybe, or maybe not at least i know which way is N, I think) after living and working in the NYC metro area most of my adult life, you might consider, "what's in a name?
or "why do we want roots, anyway?" or
"what does the word 'home' actually mean?"
or "why are we so insistent upon being banal as a society" (be sure you spell that properly. I have just listened to "Emergence" the second time. I have also heard several others more than once....

May. 25 2008 07:20 PM

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