Adam Smith's America: How A Scottish Philosopher Became An Icon Of American Capitalism.

AuthorUneke, Okori

Glory M. Liu. Adam Smith's America: How A Scottish Philosopher Became An Icon Of American Capitalism. Princeton, NJ & Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press, 2022. ix346 pages. Hardcover, $35.00.

Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) can be likened to the different parts of the proverbial elephant's body touched by the blind and came away with varying impressions. Similarly, the Wealth of Nations by the Scottish moral philosopher and political economist became a touchstone for ideological interpretations. Glory Liu's Adam Smith's America explores the contest over Adam Smith and his enduring impact on America's economic policy discourse. The subtext to Liu's book title is "The Unlikely Story of How Americans Canonized Adam Smith As The Patron Saint of Free Markets." For nearly 250 years, America's economic policy discourse draws mainly from Smith's discussion of a pin factory able to profit from the division of labor, courtesy of expanded markets and the freedom to pursue one's own self-interest. In the United States, both apostles of laissez-faire capitalism on the right and social-democratic liberals on the left, claim Smith as their patron saint. Are both sides right? How did Adam Smith acquire such a status? Did Smith's disciples really understand his message correctly? These are the questions Liu's book explores.

According to Liu, it is significant to note that Smith mentioned the terms "self-interest" and "invisible hand" only once in the Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), but these terms have taken a life of their own, suggesting a selective cherry-picking by the apostles of free markets. The far-right narrative suggests that restraints to competition hinder economic growth and progress. But Smith's views were more subtle than this narrow interpretation would suggest. For example, in Moral Sentiments, Smith emphasizes "sympathy" rather than "self-interest," and in the Wealth of Nations, he argues that when the regulation is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable. Scholarly debates have raged regarding the apparent inherent contradiction between what Smith intended in the two books. But a careful reading of Smith invalidates this manufactured contradiction. In Moral Sentiments, Smith argues that mutual sympathy will lead to moral behavior and a just society. And in the Wealth of Nations, Smith favored free-market capitalism precisely because of his...

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