J.R. Saul (on Adam Smith, Rolling in his Grave)

I’m no historian, and my knowledge of economics is even thinner, but I never liked Adam Smith. This was due mainly to my ignorance, as well as the company he keeps. Right-wingers and trickle-down theorists invoke him as if he was a bearded Old Testament patriarch, and as a younger man I assumed that their often-heartless, always plutocrat*-friendly policies made St. Adam someone to reflexively dislike and ignore. I still haven’t actually read much of Smith himself, but Saul’s The Unconscious Civilization points out, several times, the ways in which Adam Smith’s thinking has been cited selectively and often incorrectly by modern “voodoo economists”. Here’s one excerpt:

noun (derogatory) 1. a person whose power derives from their wealth. (syn. : rich person, magnate, millionaire, billionaire, multimillionaire)

“This idea that sympathy for others is the essential characteristic of the human condition was…central to Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, a treatise that is rarely mentioned by the false disciples of his economic theories. They limit themselves to a narrow reading of The Wealth of Nations and then apply it to the general…society….How poor Adam Smith got stuck with disciples like the market economists and the neo-conservatives is hard to imagine. He is in profound disagreement with their view of society.”

John Ralston Saul (1947- ) in the closing chapter of The Unconscious Civilization, a 1995 book that echoes his delivery that same year of Canada’s remarkable annual Massey Lecture series. The talks and the subsequent book are a good capsule of Saul’s views on individualism, corporatism, and the building of a humane and progressive society. I’ll soon be posting my final look at this excellent and admirably brief publication, the end of a series of posts that began here.