The other side of Adam Smith

Cover of Adam Smith: What He Thought and Why It Matters, by Jesse NormanAdam Smith: What He Thought and Why It Matters
By Jesse Norman
Allen Lane, £25
(Buy at Amazon)

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.

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”.