Adam Smith (1723-1790) is one of the great philosophers of the modern age. Acclaimed as the "father of economics," he influenced heads of state from Napoleon to Ronald Reagan and thinkers as diverse as Karl Marx and Milton Friedman, and is regarded as the emblem of today's free market neoliberal capitalism. His book The Wealth of Nations and its ideas of free trade and "the invisible hand" have become the gospel of economists and businesspeople around the world.
But just who was Adam Smith-the father of economics, a prophet of modern capitalism or a market socialist who inspired Karl Marx? A plagiarist of French and Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, or a true original? A didactic moralist, or a value-free neoliberal in embryo? Or something rather different, and vastly more interesting?
In Adam Smith, Jesse Norman reveals that Smith was not the founder of economics, nor the progenitor of free market capitalism, nor an advocate of complete market deregulation. He did not think of himself as an economist, and he would have repudiated the self-interested ethos of the modern capital markets. Far from being the foundation of today's neoliberal orthodoxy, his thought offers a deep critique of that orthodoxy. He is in truth a profound analyst and critic of economic fragmentation and social decay.
Drawing on the full range of available sources-going far beyond The Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations-Norman shows that Smith's great project was nothing less than a "science of man." Smith deduced that human sociability is rooted not in reason but in the imagination: in the sympathy that allows us to identify and find common ground with others who may be utterly different from us.
Telling Smith's life and delving into Smith's thought, Norman disabuses readers of their false preconceptions, and argues that his actual ideas are of great relevance for us today. To Norman, Smith offers an ethical perspective on human affairs, a thoroughgoing critique of free markets and their governance, and a deep insight into the well-springs of human society and sociability. In short, Smith is not the cause of the Age of Inequality, but rather offers solution to it.
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