Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mistaken Identity of the PM and a Debate on Adam Smith's Mistaken Identities

The Edinburgh Evening News (part of The Scotsman group) 7 June, we get this gem:

CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is opening a cutting edge research base in Edinburgh today.

The Fife MP is due to launch the E-Science Centre at Edinburgh University, where he read history when he was an undergraduate

Oh dear! Gordon Brown is the UK Prime Minister and no longer the Chancellor of the Exchequer (otherwise known as Alistair Darling, MP, member for Edinburgh Central).

Is the Evening News economising on sub-editors? Does nobody read the reporter’s copy before sending it to press? Has the news not yet reached the reporter who wrote the above nonsense that Mr Blair is no longer the Prime Minister and that Gordon Brown took that job over last year and now has the worst polling scores of any recent UK PM?

Next reference: “Mr Brown is also expected to take part in a debate on economics at the Playfair Library, Old College, tonight.

The event, which has been sold out for four weeks, will see the Sunday Times’ economic columnist Irwin Stelzer and director of the centre for History and Economics at King’s College Cambridge Emma Rothschild locked in discussion about economist Adam Smith.

The debate is entitled: “Can Both the Left and the Right Claim Adam Smith?”

I would like to have attended that debate but I am in France until 14 June. Irwin Seltzer has been criticised on Lost Legacy for his misleading statements about Adam Smith (most recently on Adam Smith's alleged views on inheritance taxation), so I expect nothing much from his contribution.

Emma Rothschild is a senior academic who is an excellent exponent of Adam Smith’s legacy (she is one of the few economists who recognises the nonsense written daily by economists, let alone media people, on the invisible hand and who advances an excellent study of the subject in her book, “Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment”; see Chapter 5: The Bloody and Invisible Hand. Harvard University Press, 2002. I expect her to emphasise Adam Smith’s humanitarian credentials.

As for Gordon Brown’s views, in the past he has claimed Adam Smith for the Left, in so far as ‘New Labour’ is social democratic (see Iain Maclean’s, "Adam Smith: radical and egalitarian”, Edinburgh University Press, with a forward by Gordon Brown, 2005.

Given the prime Minister’s present political problems and his determination to get back to his political roots, he most likely will delve into a leftish case for Adam Smith’s alleged ‘social democratic’ leanings.

That such discussions are pretty pointless, given that ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ were categories created post-Adam Smith’s death in 1790, I expect slavoes of quotations, torn out of context and hurled across the debating floor without too much attention to context or to Adam Smith’s legacy.

Gordon Brown may play up Adam Smith’s Hanoverian sympathies, making him what today we call a 'Unionist', thus enabling the PM to bash the Scottish National Party and the case for Scottish independence.

As I vote in Scotland, I shall read reports of the debate with interest and I feel free to comment on it in line with my self-denying ordinance not to comment on politics except in relation to the country I vote in,


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