Politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan promoted Smith's famous 1776 book, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" as the bible of Anglo-Saxon laissez-faire. In the past ten years, modernising leftists such as Gordon Brown have tried to kidnap Smith for the reformed socialism of Britain's New Labour. In this vigorous, crisp and informal book, James Buchan shows that Smith fits no modern political category and that much of what politicians and economists say about him is false.I needn't have worried: Mr Buchan was sound and saw Smith as an anti-state libertarian. OK, so old Adam was a bit unsound on road privatisation and (more unfortunately) on the labour theory of value, but essentially he was one of us.
I asked Mr Buchan a question:
"Isn't it shameful that the Scottish political class hasn't given proper recognition to our greatest countryman, a man who has done more to alleviate world poverty than the whole goddamned race of socialists laid end to end?"The rather unworldly Buchan was a bit surprised by this modest suggestion but I got a welcome round of applause from the audience.
In 1996-97, the year before Gordon Brown became Chancellor, the poorest fifth of households paid 6.8% of the total tax take, according to official statistics. This had risen to 6.9% in 2004-05, while their share of benefits had fallen from 28.1% to 27.1% over the same period.Actually, in the context of "think" tank, the term "free-market" is a redundancy. Surely all tank people have read this gentleman.
The extra tax paid by the poorest fifth of households, compared to 1996-97, was equivalent to an annual £56 (E82.9, $106.4) per household in 2004-05, while the benefits lost were equivalent to £475 a year, according to the report from the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a free-market think tank.
So there we have it: socialism harms almost all of us, but especially the poor. And the Tories are afraid of these people!