The Scotsman: Capital finally puts father of free market on a pedestal

By Brian Ferguson (July 5 2008)

HE HAS been long revered as one of Scotland's great thinkers, yet his supporters have complained for years about the lack of recognition in his native country.

 Yesterday, Adam Smith's legacy as the founding father of modern economics and free-market capitalism was finally given due prominence in Scotland's capital city.

Before a 500-strong crowd, including tourists, academics and politicians, a striking staue was unveiled in the heart of the Royal Mile. Among those in the crowd were the former Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth, Eric Milligan and Lesley Hinds, former lord provosts of Edinburgh, and Tory MSP David McLetchie.

The award-winning Scots sculptor Sandy Stoddart, who also created the David Hume monument further up the High Street, watched as Vernon Smith, a Nobel laureate economist, unveiled the statue before a piper marked the grand moment.

Mr Smith said: "I'm honoured to have played a part in ensuring that this great economist, philosopher and humanitarian continues to be known and revered the world over. This monument will attract people from all over the world."

The 10ft bronze of Smith in academic robes sits on a 10ft plinth. Beside him is a beehive, representing industry, and a ploughshare, representing agriculture.

Although born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in 1723, Smith spent much of his life in Edinburgh, where in 1776 he published The Wealth of Nations, his pioneering manual on economic growth through market competition.

But his grave in the Canongate Kirkyard, just off the Royal Mile, lay unmarked from his death in 1790 until just two years ago, when campaigners raised the cash to pay for a tombstone.

The privately funded campaign for the world's first public memorial to Smith has been running for at least five years.

Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, who led the campaign, said: "This honour is long overdue. Adam Smith was the pioneer of what today we call economics. He championed the benefits of specialisation and free trade, creating the very idea of the modern market economy that dominates the free world today."

Councillor Tom Buchanan, Edinburgh's economic development leader, said: "The statue is an inspiring landmark and a fitting tribute to the father of economics, who remains one of the city's most illustrious sons."

Smith, who studied at Glasgow and Oxford Universities, was invited to lecture at Edinburgh University in 1748, when he became a friend of philosopher David Hume. In 1751, he became professor of logic at Glasgow University.

Survival based on optimistic outlook

WHAT would Adam Smith have said? It is hard to imagine him championing the 125 per cent loan-to-value mortgage, still less being a cheerleader for lending excess.

But what made him distinctive among economic philosophers was his optimism. Not from him doom-laden treatises about insoluble crises and the collapse of capitalism.

The lending excesses of recent years would have appalled, though not perhaps surprised him. But he would have been relatively upbeat, compared with today's hand-wringing, about the ultimate outcome: out of self-interest, the economy would rebalance to ensure its ultimate survival. And these survival instincts would be a surer and swifter path to recovery than heavy bouts of new regulation.

Smith was neither the total "minimal state" advocate that some have claimed, nor was he without an ethical sense. His key understanding, expressed in The Wealth of Nations, was that the free market, while appearing chaotic and unrestrained, is actually guided to produce the right amount and variety of goods by a so-called invisible hand.

He was a critic of antiquated government restrictions, which he thought hindered industrial expansion, and attacked most forms of government interference in the economy, including tariffs. But he also attacked monopolies and championed public education.

He deserves the biggest statue because he was that rarest of breeds: an eyes-wide-open but "happy" economist.

Pubished by the Scotsman here

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