Accepted paper:

What is left of Adam Smith? Enlightenment, wealth and well-being: a reading of contemporary financial markets


Philip Grant (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Exploration of the relevance and limits of Adam Smith's work for anthropological study of contemporary financial markets emphasises the unavoidably social and ethical character of investment and speculation, meaning that finance ought to be a central concern of moral philosophy.

Paper long abstract:

It is a commonplace for contemporary, post-financial crisis advocates of a continuing, but reformed 'capitalism' to refer back to the work of Adam Smith; it is almost a commonplace to point out that many of these advocates have probably read almost none of The Wealth of Nations except a handful of pages, and none at all of Theory of Moral Sentiments. From the perspective of anthropologists and historians, many of the central claims of Smith's work, for instance with respect to barter and money, are empirically baseless, while the mainstream of the modern discipline of economics long ago rejected his labour theory of value, as well as those of his immediate successors, and Marx's critical account thereof. This paper asks, therefore, what it is modern commentators find so valuable in Smith, and then goes on to explore the limits of what both these modern distillations of Smith and Smith's ideas more deeply considered can tell us about the logic of contemporary financial markets, restoring to these markets a social and ethical character that would have seemed important to Smith the moral philosopher, even if his conclusions were somewhat different.

panel P47
Risk, value, ethics: the political logics of transnational finance and medicine