The “economic doctrine of free market fundamentalism” is a modern political distortion of Adam Smith’s moral philosophy and his political economy (Ellis Thorpe’s letter, 9 June). It has little to do with Smith’s published ideas in the 18th century.
Ellis Thorpe’s “American Business Model” (ABM) may stress slogans about “free market fundamentalism”, “low business taxes”, “self interest” and “minimal government intervention”, but Adam Smith’s proposals in his writings were far richer in their content and more balanced, with more than a touch of pragmatism.
He taught that markets should be freer of politically inspired monopoly legislation favouring some employers but not others who bribed their way into favours with some legislators, including the Crown; he had no general objection to business taxes to fund government expenditures but did not favour military ventures in Europe’s regular dynastic quarrels, the destruction of commercial rivals and wars for colonies.
He was not opposed to government expenditures on roads, ports, canals, schools, education, pavements, cleansing and street lighting (even public health!) and the use of the Royal Navy to protect UK foreign trade and shipping from piracy and blockades.
His philosophy on self-interest expressly was not about selfishness. He wrote extensively on the mediation of self-interests by friendly conversation, persuasion, and bargaining by each party, peaceably addressing the self-interests of the other to induce them to exchange what each wanted in return for what both had to offer in exchange.
The ABM, as represented by many ideologues on the Right, has nothing to do with Adam Smith’s moral philosophy. Smith was neither a left- nor right-wing ideologue; he was a moral philosopher. His ideas were not a “remote possibility” – they depend on political will (whoever wins the referendum), which is still true today.
(Prof) Gavin Kennedy