“Adam Smith is often wrongly seen as the patron of free market capitalism without a conscience.” — Gordon Brown, Prime Minister (Labour Party)
I just celebrated the most unusual 4th of July fireworks I’ve ever experienced — in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Nobel Prize economist Vernon Smith unveiled a giant statue of Adam Smith, on Royal Mile Road.
For decades, Marxists and socialists could go to the Highgate Cemetery in London and honor their patron saint, Karl Marx. Now, finally, we free-marketers can make our own pilgrimage to Edinburgh and worship our own hero to free-market capitalism.
This historic monument was the brainchild of the founders of the Adam Smith Institute. Kudos to Eamonn Butler and Madsen Pirie, who raised over half a million pounds to complete the task. I was glad to be one of the early contributors.
The ceremony attracted several hundred well-wishers. All morning rain threatened, but after the brief ceremony, the Gods shined down on Adam Smith and sunshine enveloped the city for the rest of the day. (But it poured rain the rest of the weekend.)
An American Co-Sponsorship?
I should have brought a American flag to the ceremony because it was in many ways an American affair. Major contributors came from the United States. Vernon Smith flew in from California to dedicate the statue, and Bob Tyrrell, editor in chief of the American Spectator, came from Washington to give one of the keynote addresses at the dinner on the 4th. Queen Elizabeth was originally invited to conduct the ceremonies, but ultimately declined (I was told she was too busy giving some award to a pop star.)
There’s also a synergy between Adam Smith and American independence day. On July 4th, 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the words “In the course of human events” in America’s declaration of political independence. A few months earlier, on March 8, 1776, Adam Smith issued his own declaration of economic independence with the publication of his two-volume classic, “The Wealth of Nations.” It was the intellectual shot heard around the world.
Labour’s New Mentor: Adam Smith?
But wait! The Labour Party in Britain isn’t happy that the libertarian Adam Smith Institute has captured Adam Smith as their own. Since becoming prime minister, Gordon Brown has done his best to make Adam Smith a New Labourite by quoting him regularly on public education, welfare, workers rights, and public works. He often cites Adam Smith’s earlier book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759). “Adam Smith,” he contends, “is often wrongly seen as the patron of free market capitalism without a conscience.”
Iaian McLean, professor of politics at Oxford, released a book recently, not by the title “Adam Smith, Classic Liberal and Free Trader,” but rather “Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian.” Gordon Brown wrote the introduction. In this book, McLean tries to convince the reader that Adam Smith should not be thought of as a free-marketer, but as a “social democrat” who would be more comfortable among the Labour Party regulars.
For example, McLean argues that Adam Smith, if alive today, might support the Labour Party’s agenda of a larger public education program and minimum wage legislation.
But I noticed with interest that Professor McLean was very selective in quoting Adam Smith to make his case. He conveniently left out this statement from the Wealth of Nations: “Whenever the law has attempted to regulate the wages of workmen, it has always been rather to lower them than to raise them.” Based on this statement, it appears that the Scottish philosopher might opposed the minimum wage.
Or how about this quotation from The Wealth of Nations (also ignored by McLean): “To prohibit a great people from making all they can, or employing their stock and industry in the way that they judge most advantageous, is a manifest violation of the most sacred rights of mankind.”
I doubt if we will be hearing Gordon Brown using that quote from Adam Smith any time soon.
Adam Smith to be the First Person to be Inducted into the Free Market Hall of Fame
I am happy to announce that this coming Saturday, July 12, at the Saturday night banquet at FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Steve Forbes will present the name of Adam Smith as the first inductee in the Free Market Hall of Fame. As Milton Friedman said, “Adam Smith was a radical and revolutionary in his time–just as those of us who preach laissez faire are in our time.”
If you’d like to come to this historic event, there are a few tickets left to FreedomFest, which starts this week (July 10-12, at Bally’s/Paris Resort). To sign up, go to www.freedomfest.com or call Tami Holland at 1 866 266 5101. Over 1400 people are coming to this celebration. Come join us, and celebrate Adam Smith and 7 other individuals to be inducted into the Free Market Hall of Fame.