Probably the most abused slogan from Adam Smith is his “invisible hand.” Even though it appears only three times in his writings, it has made more than one economist drool and not a few theologians see divine traces. First, the appearances: in his lectures on astronomy, he mentions the “invisible hand of Jupiter’, and then he casually drops a reference once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and again in Wealth of Nations. In the former, as the rich engage in their natural selfishness and rapacity,

They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have made, had the earth been divided into equal proportions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. When Providence divided the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to have been left out in the partition. (IV.1.10)

We should all be thankful for the rapacious rich! And then, in possibly the most quoted section from Wealth of Nations:

As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestick industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the publick interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestick to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other eases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. (IV.iii.9)

The phrase has become rubbed and worn by passing through too many hands. Many have extracted the invisible hand from the particular concern of this passage with domestic industry and extended it to become an image of how the possessive individualism of capitalism works to spread capitalism as a whole.

Apart from all the usual dross on this well-worn member, I would like to suggest another dimension. In the Hebrew Bible, yad or hand is occasionally used as a euphemism for penis. For instance, in the Song of Songs 5:4, one of the lovers is said to put his “hand” to the hole. Further, in the sexual text of Isaiah 57:8 we find literally “you have looked on a hand,” and in Lamentations 1:10 the adversary puts his hand on “all her precious things.” Given the masculine propensities of the mighty hand of God in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 32:11; Deuteronomy 4:34; and so on); given that Smith is not averse to an occasional biblical allusion; and given his unremittingly masculine concerns, especially of males of ruling class propensities, I would suggest that the invisible or hidden hand may well be a subconscious allusion to that member concealed in his pants.

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