Saturday, June 01, 2013

Local Boom for Adam Smith's Wealth Of Nations

Ron Charles writes in the Washington Post 31 May HERE 
Adam Smith, “The Wealth of Nations” (Penguin Classics).
“As the Great Recovery continues to lumber along, everyone in Washington is bickering over the legacy of John Maynard Keynes, but a much older economist has jumped onto our bestseller list: Adam Smith.
“The Wealth of Nations” — first published in 1776 — will appear at No. 4 on the Washington Post nonfiction paperback bestseller list this Sunday.
The Scottish philosopher died in 1790, but his insights on the rational behavior of markets established the foundations of modern economics. Why his classic book sold 400 copies last week in the Washington area is a bit of a mystery. It usually sells fewer than 10 copies a week. Nielsen BookScan, which collects this data for us, reports “some level of bulk sales.”
Mark Laframboise, the manager of Politics & Prose Bookstore in Northwest Washington, has seen no special interest in “The Wealth of Nations” recently. “I wonder if an organization bought a big bunch,” he says.
Perhaps it’s the work an “invisible hand.”
Or, as Keynes might say, “In the long run, we are all bestsellers.”
This news struck me as interesting. 
The Penguin Classics, [1776] 1999, 2 vol. edition, of Wealth Of Nations, introduced and with notes, was edited by Andrew Skinner, the doyen of Smithian scholars, and author of many key volumes on Adam Smith. Skinner was the Adam Smith Professor of Political Economy at Glasgow University, from which he retired Professor Emeritus after a distinguished academic career. For thirty years Andrew was one of the major Smithian scholars, among which accolades he was influential in identifying authors for the seven volumes of Smith’s Works, papers, and correspondence for the “Glasgow Edition of Adam Smith’s Works and Correspondence”, published by Oxford University Press from 1976 (on the bi-century of the Wealth Of Nations) to 1983. 
The Glasgow Edition is the definitive edition, to which Ian Ross Simpson’s biography, The Life of Adam Smith, was added in 1995 (2nd edition 2010) completed the set.
That the Penguin Classics edition did so well in sales in NW Washington to hit the no. 4 spot in the Washington Post paperback bestseller list would have brought a wry smile to Andrew’s face, from which it would have as quickly lapsed back to his normal modest demeanour. He did not wear his academic status with anything beyond appropriate for his humble personality, though he was listened to with attention on anything to do with Adam Smith.  Andrew also edited and introduced  a 2-volume edition of Sir James Steuart, "An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy" (1966) for the Scottish Economic Society, Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh.
With those scholars he knew well and respected, he was also highly personable and forthright in his private opinions, much like Adam Smith was with his trusted companions.  Iam pleased to be able to say in our last meetings at Smithian seminars during private breaks, he was forthright on sharing his gossip about Glasgow University politics and such like, and also frank about his assessments of Adam Smith’s scholarly tensions with some of his 18th–century philosopher companions (including Sir James Stuart).  Of course, I cannot repeat Andrew's confidential remarks to me about colleagues at Glasgow (and elsewhere), but I still rehearse with a private smile some of his tales to myself.  In this respect among others, Andrew Skinner was possibly as close as I will get to understanding Adam Smith, the person, though I often share in public what else I learned from both of them.  


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