July 4 2008

A statue of Adam Smith, one of Scotland’s most influential sons has finally been erected in Edinburgh.

Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, speaks about the long journey to get recognition for the economist in his home country

“Adam Smith’s name may be known and revered all around the world.  He was one of the leading figures of the Scottish intellectual enlightenment, and by any measure must be reckoned as one of the leading thinkers that Scotland has produced.

Yet it’s taken two centuries for the country of his birth to give him recognition with a public monument.

Now at last it is happening, and an impressive bronze statue of the great economist and philosopher is being unveiled in Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile.

Perhaps Scotland did not understand Adam Smith’s true message, or perhaps it forgot. Smith is too often, but wrongly, caricatured as the advocate of profit red in tooth and claw; of greed and Wall Street.

But now, more and more people are reading him, and discovering the true Adam Smith.

He believes in free markets, open competition, small government and a minimum of regulation, right enough.

But that’s because he believes, on the basis of the evidence, that voluntary exchange is the best way to help the poorest and most disadvantaged people.

Regulation and big governments are good for businesspeople and politicians: free markets are good for the masses.

Smith’s great book of 1776, The Wealth of Nations, was sensational. It was read by all the leading politicians of the day (imagine that now!).

And it led to practical change – deregulation, lower taxes, reduced barriers to trade – that ushered in the great 19th-Century era of free trade and rising prosperity that spread well beyond the traditional landowning and ruling classes.

Smith remains important today for this achievement, and for his insight – the so-called Invisible Hand – that a free society, bounded by a minimum of rules (property, honesty, contract) actually functions a lot better than one that is controlled from the centre.

That’s why it survives, and why even the harshest totalitarianism of the 20th Century could not completely eradicate its spirit. Smith’s humanitarian message is that freedom works, and it’s worth protecting. “

Published by the BBC here

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