Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Would Adam Smith Vote Labour?

Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor, has written a forward to a new book on Adam Smith that is to be published in June. Its author is Professor Iain McLean, from Oxford University. Chancellor Brown is of the opinion that Adam Smith would have felt more ‘at home’ as a supported of ‘New Labour’, the successor to the old Labour Party.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives opine that this shows that Margaret Thatcher has ‘won’ the argument about economics with the ‘old left’. Ian Johnston of The Scotsman writes (18 April) about this latest development in Gordon Brown’s flirtation with Adam Smith, perhaps born as much from his sense of mischief in embarrassing the Tories as much as his (formidable) intellectual convictions.

I have penned a short letter about this to The Scotsman newspaper:

“The Editor

Adam Smith’s reputation (Scotsman, 18 April) with Left and Right is an unreliable guide to his legacy. Smith disdained 18th-century politicians and their proclivity for ‘faction’, ‘system’ and ‘wooden chess piece’ tyrannies.

He was ‘Hanoverian’ in his politics (a beneficiary of the patronage of the Duke of Argyle), and a supporter of Natural Liberty - the rule of law; the separation of civil powers, and of church and state; of powers of impeachment; trial by juries; impartial judges; habeas corpus, and regular elections.

Smith never supported ‘laissez faire’ economics, nor did he consider markets operated by people as being ‘basically selfish’; he advocated an increase public spending in education; he praised benevolence (and was aware of its limitations); he mocked the public’s attention to the petty affairs of the very rich, and he questioned adventures in ‘Empire’.

He tried to persuade people of the benefits of free international trade (he would never have subscribed to the Common Agriculture Policy), of the need to deregulate markets and end all subsidies to commercial activities, and of the imperative to dismantle private monopolies, he would have replaced all nationalised monopolies (the Mint and the Post office excepted) with competition, but not with privatised monopolies, and he would not have been sympathetic to giant trade unions.

In that mix there is room for New Conservatives and New Labour. Hopefully, Gordon Brown’s interest will induce people to make their own minds up by reading Smith’s works. Meanwhile, I look forward to reading Iain McLean’s, Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian.”

Read Ian Johnston’s article in The Scotsman at:



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