(3) Michelangelo vs. (11) Adam Smith

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(3) Michelangelo

When he was alive, people thought Michelangelo was the best artist in the world. Since his death in 1564, that esteem hasn't faded much. After all, if someone wanted to see his credentials, he could just point to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and say, "Yeah, I did that"¦but I really think of myself as a sculptor. Those world-shattering paintings are just sort of a side project I took up. Oh, and I'm also an architect of some renown. No big deal." His David may be the most iconic sculpture of the entire Renaissance, and his acclaimed Pieta left his chisel when he was only 24 years old. Precocious and prolific, Michelangelo's tough to beat in the genius department.

(11) Adam Smith

The father of capitalism, the Scottish political economist changed the econ game forever when he penned The Wealth of Nations, which made the revolutionary argument that a country's fortunes weren't contingent on its land, but rather on the labor of its workers. By Smith's estimation, if everyone acted in their own self-interest, an invisible hand would drive up society's welfare, too. Or, in his own words: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

The Breakdown

These two geniuses have something surprising in common: strangely shaped noses. Michelangelo's arrogance and contempt for other artists often got him in hot water with his peers; at one point the sculptor Torrigiano socked Michelangelo in the face and left him with a permanently disfigured beak. Smith was no looker, either; he had a particularly large nose and remarked, "I am a beau in nothing but my books."

Luckily, this isn't a beauty contest. Who are you going to take here here? Smith's writings have laid the foundation for almost 250 years worth of economic debate and theorizing, while Michelangelo's artistic accomplishments are still jaw-dropping 450 years after his death. Whether you pick the invisible hand of Smith or the visible hand of God reaching out to Adam on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, there's no wrong answer here.

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[See the whole bracket here.]

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March 27, 2009 - 1:00am
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