Learning from Adam Smith in 2023

Samuel Fleischacker (University of Illinois)

November 23, 2023, 09:45–10:45


Room Auditorium 3

IAST General Seminar


This paper focuses on what we can learn from Smith today about current-day policy issues, by reading the Wealth of Nations (WN). WN came out almost 250 years ago — why suppose it is still relevant? One answer to that question is to say that Smith taught us the importance of free markets, minimal government, and low taxes, and we should be promoting all those things today as well. That’s the answer of what we may call “right Smithians.” A very different answer draws on the fact that Smith taught us about the importance of attending to the poor, famously saying that laws in favor of workers are “always just and equitable” while those in favor of their masters are not (WN I.x.c.61, 157-8). From here we may infer that governments have a special obligation to support the poor and vulnerable. That is the characteristic view “left Smithians.” This talk avoids both of these perspectives, drawing out instead six things that people of both left and rightwing views can take away from Smith: lessons from Smith about a general orientation we might have towards policy