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The Scottish Contribution to Modern Economic Thought.

While on sabbatical during the fall of 1980, as the train passed slowly through the small Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, I rushed forward to alert a group of chattering American college students studying abroad that they must take note of the important place through which they were passing.[1] Had this book been available at the time, I would have thrust it into their hands with the admonition to . . . "Read it; it will explain why this ground is so significant." All except three of the fifteen essays which appear here have been previously published over the last two decades, several in the Scottish Journal of Political Economy, one in the Journal of Economic Literature, and the others in various monographs by the authors. Despite their random availability, this is a collection that most economists interested in the history of thought will want on their shelves if only for the convenience of having them all together in one place.

The editor, Douglas Mair, does a fine job in the introductory essay of providing the common thread hat holds all the pieces together. Yet, like almost all edited books with multiple authors, the contributions are not of equal merit. The best of the pieces are three by Terence Hutchison and one by Horst Claus Recktenwald. Hutchison's are from his recently published Before Adam Smith: the Emergence of Political Economy 1662-1776, and are excellent on the precursors of Smith and the state of economics before The Wealth of Nations. His treatment of David Hume and Sir James Steuart adds much to our understanding of those scholars, but even better is the way he handles Smith. Like other writers here, he emphasizes the importance of seeing Smith as a philosopher interested in the entire spectrum of human experience and not just in the economic aspects. He correctly establishes that Smith's main focus was on individual freedom and not economic growth, that Smith accepted and wrote about "what is" the nature of economic relationships and not the relationships of a "perfect market system," and that Smith had important things to say about macroeconomics and money as well as about how markets function. Recktenwald's piece is the article that he published in the Journal of Economic Literature in March 1978. Besides doing a wonderful job of reviewing the best literature on Adam Smith, he includes five pages of richly elaborated notes and eight pages of an extensive bibliography that anybody doing research on Smith must have in his or her possession.

Perhaps somewhat less praiseworthy, but still quite meritorious, are five other articles that make meaningful and insightful contributions to their topics. D. P. O'Brien poses the question of how Smith's influence could last for so long and attempts to answer it by delving into the various philosophies of the history of science - those of Popper, Kuhn, and Lakatos - and concludes that Lakatos provides the best explanation for the longevity of Smith's vision. This is a difficult article, but the patient and persevering reader will reap rich rewards. Andrew S. Skinner offers a fine chapter on Smith's economic liberalism with particular emphasis on how he saw the appropriate role for government in a free society. Not surprisingly, we discover that Smith perceived a much more extensive role than what some of his most vociferous admirers have supposed. Skinner also submits a chapter on Sir James Steuart which, while well done, is not as enlightening as the piece written by Walter Eltis on Steuart's corporate state. Eltis makes very clear why it is that Smith never formally made reference to his fellow Scot's work, for Steuart's advocacy was of a state that taxes heavily and borrows greatly in order to intervene into the economy for the "public good" in such ways as impeding imports, subsidizing exports, constructing public works, and redistributing income - a prescription that sounds much like that of post-Keynesians, the Cambridge Economic Group, or national planners, rather than what Smith had in mind. A following piece submitted by R. L. Meek on the rehabilitation of Steuart further enhances our understanding of how this precursor of Smith in fact seemed to more accurately anticipate the twentieth century world of Keynes, Lerner, and other fiscalists. An original contribution by Sir Alan Peacock on David Hume, while relatively short, nevertheless allows us to glimpse the reason why this friend of Smith's has been an inspiration to many generations of economists.

Less highly valued are five other contributions which fall a bit wide of the mark, mostly because of their subject matter. One by John Gray on Hayek that strains to put him in the Scottish tradition basically fails and begs not to be included in this volume. Two others are on John Rae who, while born in Scotland, spent most of his life beyond its shores, and whose stature and significance in the history of economics can not match that of the other economists examined here. Finally, the two essays that appear at the beginning of the book which strive valiantly to establish that there is a uniquely Scottish approach to the study of economics ultimately leave the reader unpersuaded. Sheila C. Dow is more explicit about the uniqueness of the Scottish tradition in political economy than is A. L. Macfie, but both fad to make their case. Fortunately, however, it is not necessary to believe that there is a discernable Scottish tradition in economic thought in order to note the eminence of this well conceived and well prepared volume which will invariably find a highly visible place on most reading lists for graduate courses in the history of thought.

1. Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy in 1723.
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Author:Morris, Claire E.
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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