Saving Adam Smith: A Tale of Wealth, Transformation, and Virtue

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9780130659040: Saving Adam Smith: A Tale of Wealth, Transformation, and Virtue

Adam Smith ... Father of Modern Economics ... Died in 1790 ... but 200 years later, his spirit is tortured by the caricatures we remember in his name. In Saving Adam Smith, he is tortured enough to return to Earth ... and so begins a journey of discovery that cuts across two centuries, as doctoral student Richard Burns puts his life on the line to rediscover Smith's most profound insight: Selfishness is not enough.

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About the Author:

JONATHAN B. WIGHT is Associate Professor of Economics and International Studies in the Robins School of Business, University of Richmond, where he has won Outstanding Teaching and Outstanding Service Awards.

Born in Washington, D.C., he spent his youth in Africa and Latin America. He earned a B.A. from Duke University and a Ph.D. in economics at Vanderbilt University, where he was a Danforth Fellow. His paper, "A Little Adam Smith is a Dangerous Thing," received the 2001 Paxton Award for Outstanding Paper presented by the International Association of Torch Clubs. Other articles on Smith include, "Will the Real Adam Smith Please Stand Up? Teaching Social Economics in the Principles Course," and "The Rise of Adam Smith: Articles and Citations, 1970-97." In other research he co-authored a book on health care financing and numerous articles on international economic development.

Editorial Advisor: Russell Roberts, author of The Choice and The Invisible Heart

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface

As one of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment, Adam Smith wrote with sharpness and wit across a spectrum of disciplines—the arts, natural sciences, law, politics, and economics (the latter subject firmly part and parcel of moral philosophy). Smith worked to develop a system of thought that would unify the branches of "human" science, specifically in the realm of markets and morals. This unifying moral vision is a long-neglected area for economists—and has become increasingly important with the intensifying debate about globalization. As emerging market economies throw off old structures, they are discovering they may not have in place the balancing social and institutional structures that developed democracies take for granted. Put simply, Adam Smith would not be pleased if wealth were uncoupled from its moral foundations. What are the practical implications of Smith's ideas, one wonders, for the world of business today?

Saving Adam Smith tackles this issue as a fanciful work of "academic" fiction. In it, the "father" of economics introduces readers to the global economy and to the moral roots that sustain it. International trade and specialization are the cornerstones through which businesses create wealth, but Smith gives a powerful warning: free society and markets are threatened by a disregard for fundamentals—principally, a concern for justice and the cultivation of virtue. These are essential elements if a commercial system is to be made sustainable over the generations with a minimum of government intrusion.

In the midst of plenty there are also those who face profound psychological and spiritual challenges. Smith notes that the unbridled pursuit of riches "corrupts," robbing us of the very things that can provide meaning and ultimate happiness: the development of a moral conscience based on genuine feeling for other human beings. Smith thus anticipates the rise of a values-based business model that in Smith's words unites, "the best head to the best heart." Economic efficiency and virtue are mutually reinforcing.

Adam Smith speaks to us with an urgency that is as real today as it was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Smith's own words are used throughout this novel, although his sentences are at times shortened or paraphrased to maintain the flow of dialogue. Interested readers will find the sources of Smith's writings in the annotated notes. The Appendices also provide a guide to course instructors, a timeline of Smith's life, and suggestions for further reading.

As to whether the sublime Adam Smith would approve of using his words in a fanciful work of fiction, he has this to say:

It is only the teller of Ridiculous Stories that can be at all tollerable in conversation, as we know his design is harmless so we are readily inclined to grant him some licence (Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters, p. 119).

In that spirit, let us listen to the "father"—and perhaps also the wise "mother"—of modern economics and business.

-J.B.W.

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