Monday, October 31, 2005

Smith was Not a Prophet

In a bio piece by Mike Dorning (Chicago Tribune) in The Mercury News, San Jose, (, 31 October, we read about a newish, but rising, Congressman, Mike Pence. He is described as “becoming the voice of small-government conservatives”.

Apparently, “Mike Pence begins every day by reading the Bible. He works with a bronze bust of Ronald Reagan watching over him from across his office. And his vision of heaven, he said, is studying the free-market economist Adam Smith in the morning and riding horseback in the afternoon.

He also prays a great deal. Nothing at all wrong with any of that. In a free country everybody has a right to conduct themselves within the law as they please. Smith called that Natural Liberty.

Assuming that Congressman Pence is studying Adam Smith’s Works systematically, I applaud his study plan. So many people who are quick to quote Smith just rely on the odd extract, usually torn out of context. But if he is reading Smith in the same manner as he reads his Bible (from Joshua one morning to Genesis the next), I am concerned at the image of Adam Smith he projects – as the author of a kind of Biblical text, with revered passages to be chewed over and interpreted like one of the Old Time Prophets.

Smith was not a ‘High Priest’, a ‘Prophet’ or the ‘Father’. I do not think he was a ‘conservative’, more of a radical traditionalist who believed that changes in society came best from gradualism, not revolution’ or sudden lurches, and that above all, those proposing reforms should always be aware, out of ‘common humanity’ of the impact of their proposals on those least able to protect themselves and should take this constraint into account when they impose too hasty time schedules for their reforms to take effect.


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