The other side of Adam Smith

Book review: Adam Smith: What He Thought and Why It Matters Conservative MP Jesse Norman attempts to reconcile these two sides of Adam Smith's philosophy.


Adam Smith is best known as the author of The Wealth of Nations, a cornerstone of free-market economics. But nearly two decades earlier he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which stressed the value of cooperation and the common good. This book by Conservative MP Jesse Norman attempts to reconcile these two sides of his philosophy.

In doing so, Norman shows that the "simplistic picture" of Smith as a supporter of "inequality, greed, boom-and-bust economics and other woes" is "wrong in every respect", says Edward Lucas in The Times.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

He "would probably be aghast at the speculation, self-indulgence and unfairness of modern capitalism". Instead, "Smith's thinking, properly understood, holds vital lessons for the greatest questions in modern political economy, such as the state's role in dealing with crony capitalism, or the infuriating asymmetries of power and information accelerated by technological change".

Norman's book "is well written, well argued and intensely thought provoking", but tries too hard "to relate Smith's thought to the problems of today", says Simon Heffer in The Spectator. That leads to some "problematic" conclusions. Still, despite some flaws, the result is "an impressive attempt to justify the ways of Smith to men".




Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019

Coming to terms with Anna Sorokin

My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York CityWilliams is a solid writer who does a good job of explaining how she, and other int…
21 Aug 2019

Book in the news… the inside story of Spain’s tumultuous crisis

After the Fall Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New SpainA book that goes beyond politics to offer a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a country.
21 Aug 2019

An offbeat take on economics

Review: This Giant Beast That is the Global EconomyA new TV series outfreaks Freakonomics.
20 Aug 2019

Most Popular

Share tips

Class acts going cheap: buy into Europe’s best bargains

Value investing appears to be making a comeback, while shares on this side of the Atlantic are more appealing on metrics such as price/earnings ratios…
16 Jan 2020

Currency Corner: how is the New Zealand dollar doing against its US counterpart?

The New Zealand dollar has been doing well against the US dollar in recent months, but has started to wobble a little. Is it still a buy? Dominic Fris…
20 Jan 2020
Share tips

Share tips of the week

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
17 Jan 2020
House prices

UK house prices may be heading for a Boris bounce

The latest survey of estate agents and surveyors from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is "unambiguously positive" – suggesting house pric…
16 Jan 2020