Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Excellent Forthcoming Book on Adam Smith

Donald Rutherford, In the Shadow of Adam Smith: Founders of Scottish Economics 1700–1900 (Palgrave Macmillan) 2012

Donald Rutherford, has written what surely must be recognised as the best accessible scholarly history of economics of 2012, which status, deservedly, will last for some years to come.

Donald Rutherford’s significant, well written, and original contribution does not tackle his historical themes in the usual manner of parading the ‘big names’ in a strict chronological sequence, in which readers tend to lose focus because remembering a large, multi-faceted debate across several important issues across several authors, across two centuries, is tiring. Instead, Rutherford tackles the entire sweep of the period from Adam Smith’s time through to Alfred Marshall, one major theme at a time in separate chapters on ‘Trade’, ‘Money’, ‘Public Finance’, ‘Condition of the People’, and ‘Economic Ideology’ in 335 pages. He covers a wider-range of relevant sources that is normal. They are evidence of Rutherford’s prodigious scholarship and complete mastery of his relatively not well-known sources.

By travelling back and forwards across time within each major theme and its sub-themes, Rutherford reveals the germination of competing ideas in the rich milieu within which they developed among Scottish authors and influenced the intellectual debates among Adam Smith’s successors. Moreover, Rutherford does this with a noticeable absence of distracting polemical rancour. He presents without comment, critical or otherwise, the views of the participants in short statements and occasional direct quotation, leaving readers to judge privately. This is refreshing and informative.

Rutherford prompts appreciation of the lively scholarly debate that occurred among Scottish economists in the two centuries he covers, and provides much for 21st-century economists to think about in current debates on the same themes – plus ca change …


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