Adam Smith’s America: How a Scottish Philosopher Became an Icon of American Capitalism

Princeton Univ. Nov. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780691203812. $35. ECON
Liu (social studies, Harvard) explores the impact of the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith (1723–90) on American capitalism. Using much archival material, Liu explains how Smith’s 1776 book The Wealth of Nations shaped American economic and political ideas in the 19th century and posthumously turned the unassuming Enlightenment philosopher into “the father of political economic theory.” And after the Great Depression, the conservative Chicago School of Economics selected ideas from Smith’s writing that they used to advocate an economy of free trade and self-interest. Liu suggests that such ahistorical invention is responsible for the popular misconception that Smith was a true believer in the miracle of free markets. She also explores the current generation of theorists who seek to restore Smith’s reputation as a moral philosopher.
VERDICT This book should be part of library collections on economic and social thought. Liu’s recontextualization of Adam Smith will be of interest to scholars as well as general audiences.
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