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‘Plundering the Liberal Philosophical Tradition’? The Use or Abuse of Adam Smith in Parliament, 1919-2023
NIESR
2024.01.09
How have politicians and policymakers since the end of the First World War referred to Adam Smith’s ideas? In an era when misinformation is rife, this paper examines how great economic thinkers are employed in policy debates.
Preliminary analysis of speeches mentioning Adam Smith is that he is often mentioned ornamentally, a passive name dropping. However, the tone of this does vary over time.
When Smith is employed in an argumentative context, themes of fair taxation, trade, and fears over the coercive powers of producers come up repeatedly.
We see a significant rise in Hansard references to Adam Smith in the late 70s and 80s as academics, think tanks, and politicians associated with free market economics hail Smith as one of their intellectual forebears via a selective reading and interpretation of his thought.
Analysis of argumentative rhetoric from the 2010s suggest Smith is relevant to the constitutional issues Britain now faces, and it is interesting to see him invoked by those on both sides of the Scottish Independence and Brexit debates.