Monday, June 12, 2006

Blomberg Reviews Buchan on Adam Smith

Matthew Lynn writes a review of James Buchan’sAdam Smith and the Pursuit of Liberty’ (Profile Books, UK) and “The Authentic Adam Smith: His Life and Ideas (W. W. Norton, US) that is a class example of how to write, a) a book review that tells you what you get for your money, and b) it tells you about Adam Smith, who and what he was, what he believed in, and what the author of the book intended.

Matthew Lynn’s review is at and is more than worth your time ordering and reading it. It is probably the best and most accurate review I have read of James Buchan's book, and I might say, the best review of most books on Adam Smith (slight reservations about the sub-editor’s heading: “Adam Smith Bio Recalls Moralist, Hypochondria and Irish Whores” , though it certainly grabs your attention!).

For the record I must quibble about this sentence:

Smith's vision of the ``invisible hand'' of the market grew out of a wider vision of a moral and just society.”

Smith didn’t have a ‘vision’ of the metaphor of the invisible hand, for why I say this, read my numerous comments here on the miss-crediting of this lonely metaphor (from Shakespeare and Defoe) to a ‘theory of markets’ (his theory of market is quite separate from his later and sole use of the metaphor for another puprose about unintended consequences to do with security), and it certainly was not a ‘vision’. Modern readers have credited the metaphor for other ends that have nothing to do with Smith’s use.

However, that said, what a stunning review Matthew Lynn has written! I am sure James Buchan and his publisher will be pleased, and I hope sales will be generated that will take the authentic Adam Smith into wider circulation.

A sample of Lynn’s assessment of Buchan’s book:

So it's good to be reminded that Smith first started to question government meddling in the economy because he was interested in morality and freedom. He wasn't interested in creating a system that would make a few people fabulous wealthy, let alone a world marked by excessive, conspicuous consumption.

His purpose was to build a just society. When each human is allowed to earn his own living in his own way, Smith argued, he ultimately benefits the society around him. That's worth bearing in mind next time you hear an antiglobalist tell you that the free market is fundamentally immoral.

Our appreciation of that market began with a Scotsman imagining a more moral society. Although Smith will still be remembered primarily as an economist, Buchan is right to try to restore the philosophical Smith to the prominence he deserves

Top that anybody? That is precisely what James Buchan achieves in his most accessible biography of Adam Smith, 'Irish ladies of a willing disposition' and all.


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