Saturday, February 13, 2010

Adam Smith Meets God and Mammon

During my visit to Australia I was invited to participate in a panel debate with Professors Paul Oslington (Theology and Economics) and Brandon Long (Political Advisor and PhD in Theology from Cambridge) on the subject: “Reconciling and God and Mammon: Adam Smith and how religion shaped his ideas”. The debate was chaired by Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, Sydney, a think tank akin to the Adam Smith Institute in London (of which I am a Fellow).

About 40 (CIS confirm the attendance was 70 not 40!) people crowded into the CIS library (itself a poignant place for me to visit as it is the location of the ‘P. P. McGuiness Library’ and ‘Paddy’ was a mentor of mine when I was a teenager in Sydney in the 50s – he got me interested in economics and we shared many a debate on history, politics, and current affairs.

We each had 15 minutes, Paul and Brandon sharing the case for Smith being religious and me taking the opposite tack that his beliefs in Christianity faded from his time at Oxford, particularly after 1744.

Because Paul led on the role of the invisible hand (a case of providence), I responded with it being a ‘mere’ metaphor for what drove ‘rich landlords’ to feed the ‘thousands whom the employed’ – the absolute necessity for them to do so – and what drove some, but not all, merchants to invest locally – their insecurity in face of the higher risks of foreign trade.

Brandon found evidence of Smith’s Christianity in religious- sounding statements in Moral Sentiments and I responded with alternative readings of the same statements.

Audience participation and questioning was of a high standard – clearly the audience were divided – and Dr Hartwich chaired the proceedings most fairly, even inviting short-rebuttal remarks from the panellists.

What, with the CIS event and my paper, ‘The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Theology’, which I presented at the Australian Catholic University the day before, it has been a bit of a ‘theological’ visit so far. Certainly, I have learned quite a bit about different perspectives on Adam Smith, with several readings to follow.

I am also happy with the robustness of my critique of modern inventions about Smith’s use of the metaphor of ‘an invisible hand’ and, perhaps more original, my critique of the alleged theologies of Adam Smith. It is in the intense exchange of competing ideas that we refine our understanding of Smith philosophy and political economy.



Blogger Greg Lindsay said...


Sorry I couldn't be there as I was laid low all week, but very much on the mend. The video of the forum is avalable now at

I'm told we had about 70 people there btw. Didn't know the Paddy connection. That was nice to mention it. Paddy was a mentor of mine too in the early CIS days.

Greg Lindsay

5:49 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...


Yes, a pity about missing meeting you - I too was laid low with a bug a week or so ago.

I didn't count and I am pleased the facts exceed my crude count. I shall look up the video with interest.

Next time ...


11:26 am  

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