Wednesday, 21 October 2009

the wake of the wealth of nations

After Adam Smith by Shannon C. Stimson and Murray Milgate (of Palgrave’s fame) is a recent publication from the Princeton University Press that examines how, and in what ways, our thinking about the relationship between politics and political economy was transformed in the one-hundred years or so after the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776).

And yet, for what is at its base a detailed historical analysis of the development of 19th century economic theory, the book remains remarkably current. And with everyone from Barack to Brown name-dropping Keynes it is certainly refreshing to read about the somewhat eclipsed Smith. By re-visiting the grand questions that interested Smith (for example, the relationship between the market and the state, or between individual liberty and common good), Milgate and Stimson re-assess the relevance of his thinking to our current global economic predicaments.

The premise of this (mostly architectural) blog is in fact an economic one – that the period 2001-2007 was not the beginning of a New Millennium, but the continuation of the 20th century, because it was a continuation of 20th century economic thinking. This conclusion is based on a subliminal association: I am defining an epoch not by its essential social dialectic, but by the economic principles that largely determine that dialectic.

In this respect, works like After Adam Smith become important signifiers of the emerging zeitgeist. The book will be of interest to anyone concerned with how the ideas of economics and economists have influenced (and continue to influence) politics and politicians. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Adam Smith on the new £20 note.


  1. I think the reason Smith is in eclipse is that for the last thirty years he has been relentlessly name-checked by Libertarian and Neo-Conservative cranks.This tends to bring even the greatest of thinkers into disrepute,sadly...