Adam Smith: Lessons for the Left

January 20, 2012
Social Sciences, University of Brighton

United Kingdom


David Cassasas Marques
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Paul Reynolds
Edge Hill University
Anita Rupprecht
University of Brighton
Mark Thomas
Queensland University of Technology

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It is now well established that Adam Smith’s purloining by the Neo-liberal Thatcherites in the 1980s represented a partial and superficial interpretation of his work, based on a particular reading of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. This initiative, forming the intellectual basis for a concerted political and intellectual attack on social democracy and welfare politics, used Smith as the foundation for a return to free-market economic thinking and the construction of a neo-liberal hegemony over the terms of economic growth and development that privileged low labour costs and high investment opportunities for capital.

Despite a recognition of the inherent dangers of this economic policy -- short term speculative gain against longer term economic stability; vulnerability to the ebbs and flows of finance capital and global economic trends; the impoverishment of working people and conflictual approach to their representation in parties, unions and protest movements; the construction of a market instrumentalist culture that sees moral and social worth primarily in economic utility -- it remains a dominant discourse. From Margaret Thatcher’s free-market/strong state approach to political economy to Gordon Brown’s ‘Smithian sympathy’ in economic policy, Smith is part of an intellectual parlance that sustains a consensus within mainstream politics that binds mainstream debate into a notion of the market economy that is minimally and residually social; and in particular, that is conditional on the performance of the market rather than on moral principles and democratic political goals for state, economy and society.

Adam Smith’s work is so much richer, however, than this partial articulation suggests, and Smith remains a potent source for discussion and debate, particularly on the Left. This symposium seeks to explore what the Left might learn and take from Smith in articulating new forms of critical political economy and of moral and political criticism and resistance.

The day will comprise of four sessions led by academics developing recent and current work on Adam Smith and what the Left can learn from him.

This symposium is organised on behalf of CAPPE by Paul Reynolds, Reader in Sociology and Social Philosophy, Edge Hill University with Professor Bob Brecher, Director of CAPPE.

The cost of the symposium is £25 (and £10 Unwaged/students) which includes lunch. Cheques should be made out to Paul Reynolds (Adam Smith Symposium) and posted to 17 Lea Crescent, Ormskirk, Lancashire L39 1PG. All correspondence should be directed to Paul Reynolds at [email protected]

Paul Reynolds
Reader in Sociology and Social Philosophy
Programme Leader in Sociology
Social Sciences
Edge Hill University
St Helens Road
Lancs L39 4QP
Tel: 01695 584370
email: [email protected]

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