Political Economy Contra the Economists: How Adam Smith Became Thomas Hobbes
The intellectual imperialism that is modern economics understands its origins in the political economy of Adam Smith. This is no doubt driven by Smith’s frequent allusions to the constructive power of self-interest. Notwithstanding this, we will want to argue that the self-understanding of modern economics and its relation to Smith is in radical error because, unlike modern economic theory, Smith’s own conception of self-interested behaviour and its social possibilities do not reduce to a form of strategic rationality. One thinker whose work does so reduce is Thomas Hobbes. In that sense modern economics owes more to Hobbes (and less to Smith) than it cares to acknowledge. As we will try to show, Smith gives a coherent, naturalistic account of self and society that draws on our irreducibly ethical nature, and as such should have spelt the end of Hobbesianism. But, be that as it may, the future was to belong to Hobbes rather than Smith, in the form of the revitalised egoistic theory that is the neoclassical revolution in economics.
Keywords: Smith, Hobbes, Self, Society
Dr. David Wilson
Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Economics, Finance and International Business, London Metropolitan University
Dr. William Dixon
London Metropolitan University