Hillsdale College Lecture: Will the Real Adam Smith Please Stand Up?

Was Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, a libertarian, conservative, or radical democrat? Traditionally, free-market economists such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek, have defended Smith as a great free-market economist, while Emma Rothschild, Gordon Brown, and yes, even Murray Rothbard, have demurred, suggesting that Smith was an interventionist who should not be considered a hero of free markets.

Who’s right?

Recently I was invited to Hillsdale College for its annual Center for Constructive Alternatives conference on “Adam Smith, Free Markets and the Modern World.” The other speakers were P. J. O’Rourke, Nicholas Phillipson, James R. Otteson, Roy C. Smith, and John Steele Gordon. My lecture was entitled “The Centrality of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.” Click here to read the lecture and see how I come down on the debate on Adam Smith and how the debate influenced my work “The Making of Modern Economics.”

I present my case for the centrality of the invisible hand in Adam Smith's work at Hillsdale College in January 2012

Click here to read the lecture “The Centrality of the Invisible Hand” by Mark Skousen


  1. Geof Rayner says

    Adam Smith was not the ‘founder of modern economics’. He was a moral philosopher and political economist, as much concerned with writing about human institutions generally (like a sociologist) as with understanding nature (hence the expression ‘the economics of nature’ – as employed by Charles Darwin – renamed ecology by Haeckel). And obviously he was writing some half a century before industrial capitalism slipped into being the dominant form of expression in Britain.
    So many economists, generally on the right but not exclusively, carry on the myth that Smith, in some way, was a projection into the past of essential themselves; a form of narcissism projected backwards, so to speak. Certainly the term ‘invisible hand’ meant a number of different things to Smith, only one of the uses being that attributed to him by recent economists. It seems to me that modern economists, most of whom do not read history, and indeed eschew the relevance of history, simply haven’t read Smith; or if they have done so only through the extreme tints of rose currently found in hedonistic economics. What a pity, because if current economists had operated within the more ecological framework applied by Smith the current meltdown of Western Capitalism might not be occuring, at least not on the present scale at its current rapidity.
    Author Ecological Public Health, 2012

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