Friday, June 29, 2007

Two Sons of Kirkcaldy Compared

Brian Monteith, is a former conservative member of the Scottish Parliament. I forget why he left active politics, but he was always a lively thinker for his cause of the Right, and a different sort of Tory to many others I have met – he was actually interested in politics… not ranting, in the clash of ideas, not personalities, and I for one am sorry that he jumped off the ‘greasy pole’.

He writes a piece for the local Edinburgh Evening News today:

Only one* famous son has answer to poverty

This is what caught my eye:

I was reflecting on this (Britain’s new prime minister) as I flew back from Africa and killed the time by reading a new book by my friend Eamonn Butler. Adam Smith - A Primer is a succinct and accessible hundred pages that describes Smith's great contribution to the world.

Next year, Eamonn crowns his life's work of promoting Smith's teaching when the statue of the great man is unveiled on the Royal Mile. I've seen the model of the statue and I think it will become an instant hit. Typically, it has been paid for by private subscription. Forget Joe Public, Adam Smith represents the interest of the common man or woman.

Smith is sometimes portrayed as believing in materialism, greed and selfishness, but that is to misrepresent him. As Eamonn Butler reminds us, many of his sharpest criticisms were reserved for the rich and he firmly believed - and could show - that free markets benefited the poorest most. Smith's benevolence and humanity colour every page of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and, before that, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

He lifts the welfare of the nation, and of the poor in particular, above the special interests of merchants, the mighty and the very wealthy who will seek to protect themselves from competition that will give others the chance to emulate them (or more likely their forefathers)
.”

Comment
First, I declare an interest: Eamonn Butler’s ‘Adam Smith – a primer’ is a short book for which I wrote an Introduction at the invitation of the IEA.

Nevertheless, it comes with my strongest recommendation. It is published by Profile Books, London for the IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs), which you can purchase from: IEA 2 Lord North Street, London SW1P 3LB, price GBP7.50 ISBN978-0-255-366608-3 For clarity: I have no financial interest in the book whatsoever (I only have moral interest in its sucess).

Second, it is in my view ‘the best short introduction to [Adam Smith] in print that I know of, and it will enable anybody to know what Smith was truly about’.

Thirdly, ‘almost all the so-called diversions and detailed expositions supposedly making The Wealth of Nations to be ‘difficult’ and ‘irrelevant’ to modern readers arise from misunderstandings of what he was about. He was not a modern-style author of a ‘principles of economics’ text – the subject did not exist when Smith was alive. He wrote a report of his inquiry into the true meaning of wealth, what caused wealth to grow and society to progress towards opulence, and what held it back. His was the right book at the right time. That was his genius and his legacy. And Eamonn Butler’s presentation is your best opportunity to see why.’

Fourth, buy the book.

* The reference is to the fact that Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy and so was the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. I think it might be fairer to say that Gordon Brown definitely wants to reduce poverty, especially in Africa, but whether he is going about it in the way that Adam Smith would have recommended is another matter.

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