Sunday, October 03, 2010

New Biography Of Adam Smith

Nothing gets an econ prof more excited (that is, if we could get excited). It is called Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life by Nicholas Phillipson. It is reviewed in today's New York Times business section. Go to The Wealth of an Intellect by NANCY F. KOEHN. Here are some exerpts:
"According to Mr. Phillipson, Smith was, first and foremost, concerned with developing “a genuine Science of Man” — an effort that began when Smith was a student at Glasgow University. There he studied the classics, jurisprudence, logic and metaphysics; he also met the philosopher Frances Hutcheson and the mathematician Robert Simson. These experiences helped Smith cultivate a respect for placing philosophy on a scientific basis and a compelling interest in thinking systematically."

"The two fruits of this effort were “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” published in 1759, and “The Wealth of Nations.” In the earlier book, Smith set out to understand the motivations of human behavior and the development of moral principles within individuals. At the heart of Smith’s analysis lies the concept of sympathy (what we know today as empathy), which he saw as the bedrock of all forms of human communication, including commercial exchange. It is sympathy, he writes, that ultimately accounts for “that great purpose of human life which we call bettering our condition.”"

"...he married man’s ineluctable drive for improvement with the concept of self-interest to set forth the primary driver of all economic activity..."

" Smith regarded restraints on imports and other trade restrictions as a function of “the wretched spirit of monopoly” that had afflicted economic activity throughout history."

"The best evidence for Smith’s argument, Mr. Phillipson demonstrates, was the rapid progress of the American colonies, where cheap land and the absence of high taxes and other restraints had helped create a thriving society and a robust domestic market."

I'm glad that the article mentioned Adam Smith's first book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. That was mainly a work of philosophy. But it may be just as important as The Wealth of Nations. I have posted a two entries before about this. Go to:

Science Proves That Adam Smith Was Right Over 200 Years Ago (sort of).

Adam Smith vs. Bart Simpson

No comments: