P Werhane, Adam Smith's Legacy for Modern Capitalism [Book Review]

Quaderni di Storia dell'Economia Politica 10 (3):187-189 (1992)
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First, the book does not have an original thesis. The thesisthe author wants to argue is that Smith is different from his current caricature, a legacy of his nineteenth-century image, according to which he would argue that: i) man is a maximizer of utility; ii) man is ordinarily moved by a narrow selfish interest, or at least is indifferent to the interests of others; iii) human beings are social atoms; iv) a perfectly competitive market is morally a free zone (pp. 4-5). The author recognizes that these interpretations "are being questioned by many scholars". contemporary", however, reiterates his conviction that these interpretations are still prevalent, and cites in this regard the abuse of the name of Smith by the Chicago school (p.6). If the author's aim is to challenge a caricature, still common among non-experts but no longer shared by Smith's scholars, one may wonder whether this justifies a new book. Secondly, the author does not demonstrate mastery of the state of the art. She wants to demonstrate the non-existence of Adam Smith Problem, not only without any direct knowledge of German literature but ignoring an important article by Heilbroner from 1981 and a fundamental essay by Dickey from 1986 that explicitly advocate an exhumation of the "Adam Smith problem" in a new form. Thirdly, the author lacks the ability to understand concepts and problems in contextual terms: where she mentions Adam Smith's 'Newtonianism' she does not prove to be familiar with the literature on the subject, citing Lindgren as the only authority and ignoring, among others, Moscovici, Skinner, Hetherington and Freudenthal, but also seems to understand by Newtonianism an equivalent of deterministic and materialistic mechanicism (pp. 48-51). Besides, every time she uses the term utilitarianism he confuses it with the terms hedonism, economicism, selfishness (p. 155).

Author's Profile

Sergio Volodia Marcello Cremaschi
Università Cattolica di Milano (PhD)


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