Monday, March 14, 2005

How ‘Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy’ came to be written

The fact that my books appear, at first sight, to be on two widely different subjects – one reconciling differences peacefully and the other preparing to reconcile differences violently - my approach to both subjects began coincidentally with an exposition of ideas from Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776).

From Smith’s Book 1, I took the exchange model of negotiation (‘nobody has ever seen two dogs negotiate over bones’; ‘a certain propensity in human nature … to truck, barter, and exchange’; ‘give me some of what I want and I will give you some of what you want’). I incorporated Smith’s trading concepts after several years’ field research observing live negotiations in business. I define negotiation as:

‘the process by which we obtain what we want from somebody who wants something from us’.

On that proposition in 1987, I founded an international consultancy, Negotiate Ltd (, based on the identification from my field research of the common Phases (‘8 Steps’) of negotiation that are universal across all cultures during 1972-4.

From Book V, I took Smith’s exposition of the first duty of the Sovereign, ‘that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, [which] can be performed only by means of a military force.’ I read this concept of Smith’s (plus ‘defence is more important than opulence’) after being asked by Professor (later Lord) John Vaizey to stand-in for an absent colleague who was due to give a series of lectures on the economics of defence at the National Defence College, Latimer. With only a couple of days to prepare, I consulted the Wealth of Nations, but found next to nothing in the NDC library on the economics of defence. In 1975, I wrote one of the earliest UK books on defence economics.

From such an ‘accidental’ start, I played a minute role in the Cold War, educating military officers, politicians and civil servants in the UK, Canada, Australia and the USA on the validity of allocating scarce resources to defence expenditures, even though other socially worthy, but less pressing, ends competed for the same funds.

By the late 1980s, I had read Smith’s Wealth of Nations for the first time. Fortuitously, with my voluntary retirement from the Cold War, I had time to spare, at least for a short while, and I started dipping into the literature on the Wealth of Nations, eventually extending my reading to Smith’s earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).

What I found disturbed me. Up to then I had accepted what ‘every economist knew’ about Adam Smith: he was inter alia the ‘Father’ of modern economics, he advocated ‘laissez faire’, he was the ‘High Priest of Capitalism’, he established his economics on the principle of selfishness, he favoured the smallest possible ‘night watchman’ State and he was an unsentimental realist relying on the eventual public good of the ‘invisible hand’. But by the 1990s I intended to write about the discrepancies between what ‘every economist knew and believed’, including me, until I read his books and discovered he had written otherwise.

At the start of the 21st century, a publisher’s editor asked me if I would be interested in writing a book on Adam Smith’s ‘philosophy’ for ‘A’ level and first year university students. I agreed with some enthusiasm but negotiations with the owner of the publishing company degenerated into bad tempered disorder when I asked a couple of innocently routine minor questions about asserting my moral rights as an author (as permitted by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988), which he claimed to be indicative, perish the thought, of me being a ‘troublesome author’! .

We never got to the money. I wondered if I was to blame, after all I was an experienced professional negotiator (at least I got paid handsomely for what I knew about negotiation) and I wondered if there was something applying to negotiators analogous to a lawyer being advised never to defend himself in court.

However, by the time these unhappy months concluded, I was already working on the scope of what become the ‘Lost Legacy’, and did not feel like putting it aside. So, the ‘Adam Smith Project’ got underway, without a publisher, in my spare time and without funding. Researching and writing became something I did in whatever time I could muster from my ‘day job’ at Edinburgh Business School. In time, even my day job, which already stretched into evenings and weekends, was intruded upon by my wandering attention as I read through a vast literature.

When I had compiled a thematic outline, a number of draft chapters and the elements of a draft manuscript, I circulated them to colleagues and to an Author’s agent (wishing to avoid repeating the first unhappy experience). Academic colleagues were enthusiastic. The Authors’ Agent was not. She reported fairly, I soon realised, that my outline was ‘too academic’, ‘read like recycled lecture notes’, and ‘would not be commercial’. She prompted what was the first of several re-drafts.

I had hoped to publish ‘Lost legacy’ in Edinburgh. This seemed an appropriate ambition, not because I felt ‘Lost Legacy’ had prospects only for purely local sales. Far from it. Books on Adam Smith enter a potential global market, evidenced by the number of publishers of ‘Adam Smith’ books in North America and the UK and by the dispersal of Smithian scholars writing in the professional journals from universities in North America, Australia, Europe and Japan.

By 2003 I had a workable draft and decided it was time to approach publishers on my own account. I tried a couple of Edinburgh publishers. They were polite and helpful but ‘Lost Legacy’ fell outside their plans because they did not think they could ‘make it work’ (concurring with the Literary Agent’s assessment). I then tried some London publishers; after all I had published about 20 books with London houses since 1980. Again failure – always stated with impeccable politeness.

The problem appeared to be either that ‘Lost Legacy’ covered several themes – a bit of biography, bits of philosophy, law and economics, and did not ‘fit easily into their lists’, or, as one distinguished (and friendly) publisher put it, ‘your book expresses the view that Adam Smith was opposed to laissez faire and this narrows the market for it because those who want to believe that he favoured laissez faire won’t buy it.’ Fair comment - candour in affairs of business, and affaires de cœur - is always the best policy.

If people who know their business give advice it is often a good idea to listen carefully. I listened and as a result I re-wrote the manuscript several times in different styles. I took footnote references off the page; I refrained from making comments in them; I broke the original eight long chapters into what became 57 short ones; I took one, admittedly rambling, chapter out and placed a shorter version as an appendix; I dropped several long explanations of some themes; simplified or summarised others; I cut down on some of my more polemical remarks, and, in editing the ms, I removed over 20,000 words net, losing some carefully contrived turns of phrase, e.g., ‘rumour is the mother of belief’.

In early 2004, Professor Sir Alan Peacock kindly mentioned ‘Lost Legacy’ to Palgrave Macmillan, the academic publishers with a strong economics list, and said it was worth reading by an editor. In due course, contact was made with Amanda Hamilton, Palgrave’s commissioning editor in economics, and she sent the manuscript to be refereed. The anonymous referee’s report was positive and included several pages of comments on errors he or she had noticed, suggestions for clarification of certain sentences or paragraphs, some recent work I had not commented upon when I should have, and mentioned a few comments I should leave out. All of which was excellent advice (I recognised a soul mate, interested in Adam Smith’s works from a detailed knowledge of the subject). I took his or her advice, except for one item on the dating of when young Adam Smith began his essay on the ‘History of Astronomy’ (Chapter 3, ‘Lost Legacy’).

When the contract arrived for signature, I decided to sign it without reading it in case we got sidetracked again. Either you deal with reputable publishers whom you can trust or you deal with those whom you cannot (especially if they open by denying you your legal rights!).

Many will be surprised at my apparent recklessness with Palgrave, who acted from the beginning with professional integrity. Lost Legacy had taken three years by then to write and numerous years before then to conceive. I had some few months left before Palgrave wanted the printable ms delivered (time for another rewrite?) and I did not consider the money at stake to be worth the effort and risks.

The cover was the last problem. Over recent years I have accumulated a fairly large library of books by or on Adam Smith and I am familiar with most covers on Adam Smith books. My original idea was for an 18th century street market scene; after all these were the markets that Smith wrote about. Professor Alan Thompson suggested I visit the Scottish National Portrait Gallery where Dr Stephen Lloyd is Senior Curator and is an expert on 18th century prints.

I still preferred the market scene theme but in the course of my visit to the Gallery, Dr Lloyd showed me the original Tassie medallions of Smith’s image. I had recognised from illustrated books on Smith the remarkable similarity of Tassie’s image of Smith with the only known portrait of Smith’s mother. When Dr Lloyd showed me a photograph of the Museum’s 1787 Tassie medallion of Smith, it was striking, far more so than the object itself in its case.

The Tassie has been used many times on book covers but never so well as in the photograph in the Gallery’s files now on the cover of Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy. The problem is that most representations of the Tassie image are left with the heavy black frame that holds the original piece. Also, most reproductions from the original are taken from above, the lighting flattening the shapes and shadows of Smith’s face. The best effect is when the face is lit from the side. The Gallery’s photographers have faithfully captured this image, allowing Palgrave’s designers to produce one of the best Smith book covers of any I have seen.

Incidentally, after all details of the book and its cover were completed but before publication, I received a copy of Samuel Fleischacker’s On Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: a philosophical companion (Princeton University Press, 2004) covered with a beautiful coloured print of Covent Garden Market in 1737 (Balthazar Nebot, Tate Gallery, London). It is quite stunning.

But I am glad that Dr Lloyd showed me what could be done with the Tassie medallion. I hope that the Nebot market and the Tassie medallion signal a new, higher level in cover designs for books on Smith. Both these books certainly set new standards in their covers, and having read Fleischacker’s book, I am convinced that the contents of both books suggest that the re-establishment of Adam Smith’s reputation for what he did write is assured.

14 March 2005


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