20th Jan 2012
The University of Brighton
A one-day symposium at the University of Brighton
It is now well established that Adam Smith’s purloining by the Neo-liberal Thatcherites in the 1980s represented a partial and superficial interpretation of his work, based on a particular reading of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. This initiative, forming the intellectual basis for a concerted political and intellectual attack on social democracy and welfare politics, used Smith as the foundation for a return to free-market economic thinking and the construction of a neo-liberal hegemony over the terms of economic growth and development that privileged low labour costs and high investment opportunities for capital.
Despite a recognition of the inherent dangers of this economic policy – short term speculative gain against longer term economic stability; vulnerability to the ebbs and flows of finance capital and global economic trends; the impoverishment of working people and conflictual approach to their representation in parties, unions and protest movements; the construction of a market instrumentalist culture that sees moral and social worth primarily in economic utility – it remains a dominant discourse. From Margaret Thatcher’s free-market/strong state approach to political economy to Gordon Brown’s ‘Smithian sympathy’ in economic policy, Smith is part of an intellectual parlance that sustains a consensus within mainstream politics that binds mainstream debate into a notion of the market economy that is minimally and residually social; and in particular, that is conditional on the performance of the market rather than on moral principles and democratic political goals for state, economy and society.
Adam Smith’s work is so much richer, however, than this partial articulation suggests, and Smith remains a potent source for discussion and debate, particularly on the Left. This symposium sought to explore what the Left might learn and take from Smith in articulating new forms of critical political economy and of moral and political criticism and resistance.
The day was comprised of four sessions led by academics developing recent and current work on Adam Smith and what the Left can learn from him:
David Cassasas Marques, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain
Mark Thomas, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Anita Rupprechty, University of Brighton, UK
Paul Reynolds, Edge Hill University, UK