WHICH ADAM SMITH?
Simon Constable scribes (27 April) piece for the Wall Street Journal HERE
“Five Shrines to Capitalism” (From Florence to London to Wall Street)
“In the spirit of WSJ Sunday's focus on the financial, here are five tourist sites important in the history of capitalism:
Adam Smith's Grave: Pay homage to the father of economics, Adam Smith, by visiting his grave in the Canongate cemetery in Edinburgh's Old Town. A native Scot, Smith wrote the 1776 tome "Wealth of Nations," creating modern economics.”
I am in two minds over this piece. First, I am always pleased to see references to an "Adam Smith Trail" located in Edinburgh down the High Street/Royal Mile that historically is much like the 18th century street that Smith walked up and down while fit (and was carried in later years by Porters) despite the modern buildings that replaced numerous predecessors over the years.
My own guided walking tours, which I have undertaken over the years when fitter physically than I am now, started from Adam Smith's Statue besides St Giles Cathedral opposite the current Edinburgh City Council building, which in Smith's day was occupied by Commissioners of Customs and the Salt Duties and where he worked four days a week from 1778-90. His statue was erected in 2008 and unveiled by Noble Laureate, Professor Vernon Smith.
Further down the Royal Mile, we visited Smith's grave in the Canongate Church Yard, almost next door to Smith's residence in Edinburgh, and from which his mother, Margaret Douglas Smith would have visited the Kirk for Sunday Worship.
Next stop was Panmure House, home for Adam Smith's Mother and his cousin, Janet Douglas, his mother's housekeeper, and himself (1778-90). His beloved mother died in 1784 and was probably buried her family's Kirk yard across the Firth of Forth near Strathendry, Fife. Janet, who died in 1788, who was also a Douglas, was probably buried in Fife too. There is no mention of them being buried in the Cannongate Yard in the Church records, though Smith's burial in recorded there a few days after he died in 1790.
Panmure House is under renovation just now since the house was acquired by Edinburgh Business School and funding for the renovation to make it suitable as an international educational resource for Heriot-Watt University, including post-graduate degrees in modern economics and moral philosophy, as well as for pre-univeristy economics courses for school-students, and set-piece, prestigious events delivered by Nobel-level luminaries.
Secondly, I am concerned about the assertion that Smith's Wealth Of Nations created "modern economics", or the similar claims that Smith was the 'father of economics'. Given that Smith's teachings on political economy are often only partially understood by modern economists in the almost lazy ignorance of his moral philosophy (and total ignorance of his other works on Rhetoric, History of Astronomy, and Lectures On Jurisprudence), I recoil from calling him the 'father' of what followed after he died in 1790 until recently in the 21st century. In the context of modern understanding on Adam Smith's Works and ideas, his so-called intellectual descendants 'children' today are closer to being a bastard breed indeed.
My current state of health precludes me for some months, at least, conducting Adam Smith tours down the Royal Mile, but I am optimistic (as ever!) that I may be able to resume them in 2015. But please keep in touch should you visit Edinburgh in 2014 in case my fitness improves sooner.
Lastly, I am uncomfortable with describing Adam Smith's places where he lived and worked (Kirkcaldy, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford, London, Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Geneva as "shrines" to "Capitalism". Smith was by choice a modest man. Moreover, the never knew the word "capitalism", which was not used in English until 1854 (by Thackeray in his novel, The Newcomes). There is much about what we know as 'capitalism' today that Smith would have been forcibly critical (he certainly was morally critical of much of the behaviour of "merchants and manufacturers" in the 18th century in his Wealth Of Nations. Much of that self-interested conduct in the 18th century is still with us in both markets and in government interventions in the economy in the 21st century.