There’s a reason you don’t see many Adam Smith ties in the faculty lounge. “Adam Smith believed there are few things that the government should do,” James Otteson of Wake Forest said at the Philadelphia Society’s annual meeting in Philadelphia last month.
Nevertheless, Smith, the Scottish philosopher, has inspired American scholars and sages for centuries. Thomas Jefferson recommended The Wealth of Nations as a worthy title for his beloved University of Virginia.
Yet and still, the ideas that Smith promoted are sadly lacking on American campuses. Self-control, for example, is one of these.
Moreover, he is given less quality time, even in free market venues, than more faddish notions. For example, seven years ago, the libertarian Cato Institute devoted a panel to the Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by University of Chicago professors Richard A. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.
At the Philadelphia Society conclave, Smith scholar Otteson compared his hero unfavorably to Thaler and Obama advisor Sunstein, and not without reason. Specifically, while Smith endorsed “decentrality” and “no central authority to direct other’s lives,” the UChi profs recommend extensively relying on “centralized experts, like Thaler and Sunstein,” Otteson noted wryly.
The Philadelphia Society is comprised of a group of conservative intellectuals. It was formed in the wake of the Goldwater defeat of 1964.