Christine De Luca, in her verse, The Invisible Hand, suggests that the 18th century economist, whose Wealth Of Nations defined classical economics, would have felt compelled to write a new treatise redefining capitalism for the global era.
The poem was prompted by Smith’s statue in the Royal Mile, which was unveiled in 2008 and paid for by private subscription organised by the Adam Smith Institute, a leading policy think tank.
The 10ft bronze statue, by sculptor Alexander Stoddart, a stone’s throw from St Giles’ Cathedral, shows Kirkcaldy-born Smith with his right hand partly covered by his academic gown. This pays homage to Smith’s theory of “the invisible hand” of the free market, a central tenet of his work, written in 1776.
De Luca’s first poem as Edinburgh Makar, The Morning After, about Scots waking up the day after the independence referendum needing to find a way of living together no matter how they voted, won widespread acclaim.
Of her latest work, she said: “I was really pleased to see a statue to Adam Smith appear. I knew very little about him other than that he was a giant in economics, indeed, the father of economics.
“I don’t claim to know much about economics, but Smith believed the measure of a nation’s wealth was not how much there was but how you use it for the good of all.
“It seems to me that capitalism has got out of kilter. Greed and lack of regulation allow some people to get extremely wealthy, draining away from the rest of us. I think Smith would be shocked at these excesses of capitalism and would not think that was what he meant in his writings.
“He had a big analytical brain and if he was sitting down today with a blank sheet of paper I think he’d be writing a new treatise looking at all the functions of government and central banks saying these need to be regulated for the good of all.”
Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, said of the poem: “It’s a nice, sympathetic portrait of Adam Smith, but the economics aren’t quite right. Globalisation is nothing new – Smith himself in 1776 pointed out that even the ‘rough woollen coat’ of a ‘day-labourer’ involved the labour of thousands of people, across many continents. And are we missing the Invisible Hand by which our self-interested market transactions actually produce mutual benefit? A little, but only because markets are being distorted by politicians who mistakenly think they can do better. But the best laid schemes o’ rodents and rulers gang aft agley.”
To a monument: The Invisible Hand
You must have had a natty tailor – that coat:
cuffed, collared and buttoned to perfection.
Your draped cloak softens it, protects from winds
of close and wynd. Those buckles must have cost
a bob or two as well, and your full wig.
Where you stand you can
almost see Kirkcaldy: cornerstone of character where
you learned the basics, built on them brilliantly;
where you saw men paid in nails, their work
a cannie commodity for barter.
That gaze hides much:
a soft heart, perhaps a nervous disposition.
More than likely you soldiered on with just
your widowed mother: there seems a touch
of melancholy in your stance.
But you were wedded
to debate, enlightenment; thrust your learning
through the engine of your diverse faculties, built
sound new theories – PolEcon we called it in the 60s.
You reasoned that hoards of gold, alone,
are no true measure
of a nation’s wealth; that Productivity and GDP
can measure Systems. Your Wealth Of Nations,
that weighty bible of free market Capitalism, set out
the links: competition, self-interest, prosperity.
But you were also grounded
in Philosophy; wrote of Beauty, Order, Harmony;
of Good and Evil; knew the underpinnings of morality,
of faith. Your writing was plinthed on the invisible hand,
the hand that seeks the greatest good for all.
That plinth has gone now.
Would you be shocked? Would you be writing
a new treatise, re-defining Capitalism for this
Global era? You look east, well above our heads;
your vision still clear as a bell.
Christine De Luca