Friday, April 07, 2006

Nicholas Gruen on the Real Adam Smith

Nicholas Gruen on ‘Smith and Jane Austen on marriage’: now available on ‘Lost Legacy’ (under ‘Articles’)

Earlier this week I mentioned that I had received a copy of a short 5-page essay on Adam Smith from Nicholas Gruen (Australia) and how I had immediately admired it. This is now available under ‘Articles’ on this site. Please take the time to read it. It is among the very best articles on Smithian market theories I have read for a long, long while.

No, it is not an unrestrained paean of praise for free-markets, nor is it the usual diatribe against them; both often written by people who have not read Adam Smith for themselves, or, if they have, they did not understand him.

Gruen writes about the real Smithian moral philosophy and political economy as applied to ‘commercial society’, and as he thought and wrote about them in the mid-18th century (Nicholas Gruen has certainly read and understood Adam Smith). In many senses, Gruen reclaims Smith’s legacy and moves the debate back to his original focus.

I quote an extract in the form of Nicholas Gruen’s final paragraph:

I began this essay suggesting that Adam Smith was to markets what Jane Austen is to marriage. But the converse is also true. For Smith the market, for Austen marriage, were honourable estates, ideal theatres for human engagement where prudence and good character would be rewarded (in the absence of unusually bad luck). They were likewise a state in which people made their own lives together, in which each might find and benefit from the best in others as they sought what was best for themselves. As such, though they were not the sum of human life, they were estates in which both virtue and happiness might thrive together, at least so far as possible in human affairs.”

Read it; read it now, and gain an insight into the mind of Adam Smith, perhaps as you have never understood him before.

[First published in Australian Financial Review, 31 March 2006. All rights reserved]


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