Chris Berry, Professor of Political Theory at University of Glasgow, has condensed the life and work of moral philosopher and economist Adam Smith into a 10 minute lecture.
It highlights the fact that Smith, seen by many as the founder of economics, knew that there was no such thing as a rational market, that not everything can be reduced to self-interest, and there are such things as black swans. All facts that modern economists have blithely ignored.
The video marks the first ever Chinese translation of one of Adam Smiths key works, the Theory of Moral Sentiments. Berry is lecturing on the subject in China at Advanced Study in Social Science at Fudan University at the end of November.
With the modernisation of China into a global economic superpower, there is renewed interest in the work of Adam Smith, said Berry recently. It is an opportunity to look beyond the caricature that depicts him as the enemy of government regulation and believer in something called the invisible hand to produce optimum economic outcomes. In fact, if we actually read Smith then these depictions can be seen to be contrary to what he tried to teach.
Smith made it clear in Wealth of Nations that the wealth lay in the well-being of the people. This covered not only their material prosperity but also their moral welfare. He thought to be in poverty was a miserable condition and that to be condemned to repetitive limited tasks (like sharpening pins several thousand times a day) damaged our social and intellectual virtues.
Adam Smith, the supposed father of capitalism, and Karl Marx, the begetter of communism have much in common. Both were intently interested in the transition from a feudal agricultural society to a commercial or market one. Both believed this change could be explained by deep-seated economic causes and both have had their ideas co-opted to establish social systems.
Modern China, it would seem, wants the impersonal discipline of the market as the engine of modernisation and enhanced welfare. The challenge is to sustain this alongside Smiths total vision in which the conception of welfare is inseparable from the enjoyment of liberty (the right of each individual to live their own lives as they themselves see fit) within the framework of the rule of law.