Adam Smith was a champion of the working classes

The forgotten legacy of Adam Smith

Contrary to Adam Smith’s image today as an uncomplicated champion of free market capitalism, during the 19th century, Smith’s work inspired socialists and radical political reformers. Writes Alexandra Digby.

Three hundred years after his birth, Adam Smith’s reputation as the poster boy for free market capitalism remains stubbornly deep-seated. Portrayed as an ideologue of the modern political Right, Smith is credited with unlocking an important economic truth: markets work best when left alone. More specifically, Smith supposedly discovered, by way of the ‘invisible hand’, that markets work best for everyone when individuals are free to pursue their own self-interest and when competition is allowed to flourish. Yet this reading would have baffled 19th-century reformers in Britain who looked up to the moral philosopher as ‘that renowned Smith…the great oracle of the discontented’. Indeed, Smith’

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