By the end of 2017, my band will release an album inspired entirely by the works of Adam Smith. Spanning eight songs and covering both Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, the album will highlight the beautiful prose and infinite wisdom found in Smith’s writing.
The eight songs are not meant to be a comprehensive summary of Smith’s two books, but rather a mosaic of Smith’s wisdom. I see them as eight of the most illustrative concepts he uses to explain human nature and political economy.
The inspiration came about when I attended a gathering of singer-songwriters in New York. As an economics graduate student, I stood out amongst the crowd that otherwise featured people doing creative work as their day jobs. I was in an Adam Smith reading group at the time, loving his writing style and description of the world around him, and realized there was a niche to be filled by writing music based on the works of the classical economist.
Early on in the process of writing the songs, I came to see how biographical and relatable the themes were. Within Smith’s concept of the Impartial Spectator, we can all relate to the desire to “not only be loved, but to be lovely.” Smith describes a poor man’s son yearning for the luxury and ease of having riches, only to regret his efforts on his death bed: Every one of us has at one time or another overestimated what accomplishments and riches will do for our happiness.
Overall, I hope the album will inspire people to learn more about Smith and his rich, nuanced, and wise view of human nature and economics. Too often, he is depicted as an extreme free-marketeer that sees human beings as being governed purely by a cold self-interest. This caricature overlooks his significant descriptions of market failures and the central role of sympathy in his view of human nature, among other things. If “Hamilton” could inspire everyday people to learn more about a centuries-old American thinker, so can these eight songs.
Our first single featured here is called “Silent Revolution,” inspired by Book 3, chapters 2-4 of Wealth of Nations. Smith describes how the introduction of commerce, through no intention or foresight of any parties involved, allowed for the gradual liberation of the masses away from feudalism. Interdependence replaced dependence, prosperity ensued, and power became more decentralized.
You can listen to the song here.