Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sheena MacDonald: A Candidate for August's Lost Legacy Prize?

Scotland on Sunday 14 August 2005
Reliable transport system is still just a flight of fancy
Sheena MacDonald

"Has Adam Smith's pioneering thinking on economic freedom 250 years ago been misinterpreted by today's competitive capitalists? Is claiming to incorporate an ethical dimension in your business plan a fig-leaf for bad management?"

"Adam Smith himself provides a role model. Appointed to the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow University before he was 30, he made time to discuss common interests with his friend David Hume, who lived in Edinburgh. Exchanging letters was too ponderous a means of communication. So Smith travelled to visit Hume. This took a couple of days. He did not have the resources for a private coach, so bought a ticket for the public stage which journeyed through numerous pick-up points before achieving its destination. If it seems droll today to imagine spending two days travelling between Glasgow and Edinburgh, consider what Smith did with his time to think. The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was not written in haste. To this day it remains a text-book for economists trying to yoke efficient use of resources with public service and welfare."

Pretty good angle on Adam Smith and the problem of transport between Edinburgh and London from one of Scotland's top feature writing journalists (who a few years back suffered from a terrble road accident occasioned by a speeding police car).

Today, trains every 30 minutes take 45 minutes to cover the journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I used to do it myself regularly when I worked at the University of Stratclyde in the 1970s- itself located a few hundred yards from where Adam Smith taught at the then location of the University of Glasgow, also known as Glasgow College, in the 1750s, next door to the Cathedral, still standing. Glasgow University moved two miles away in the 1880s to its present location on Gilmore hill, hwere the origial College building was re-built exactly.

Small quibble: if only "Wealth of Nations" was an 'economics textbook' read by modern economists! It is now seldom read at all, except for isolated quotations and mostly it is misunderstood.

But for all that, Sheena MacDonald is more accurate (as top journalists always are) about Adam Smith's life and his works. Is Sheena a candidate for August's Lost Legacy Prize? (For the record, I have never spoken to Sheena MacDonald to my knowledge, hence no favouritism here....)


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