Adam Smith’s ideas about morality and the market changed the world — but what do we really know about the man considered by many to be the “father of economics”? What was his life like, and how did it influence his writings? What did he really think about morality and self-interest? And whatever he did think — is it still relevant today?
In The Real Adam Smith, a new documentary from Free to Choose Media, Cato senior fellow Johan Norberg takes viewers on a worldwide journey exploring Smith, his life, his writings, his influence, and how his ideas apply to our world today. He travels to Smith’s birthplace, the small Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, to learn how Smith got his start in academics. He visits Paris, where Smith would have discussed the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment with other academics in Parisian salons, and the University of Glasgow’s Roman artifacts collection, where Smith spent many happy hours as a professor tending to the ancient relics. To see firsthand the power of the division of labor, which Smith praises in The Wealth of Nations, Norberg travels to Toulouse, France, to watch the assembly of a new Airbus A380. He interviews scholars of Smith, as well as the leaders of modern companies like Whole Foods and eBay, who owe their success to the flourishing of Smith’s ideas.
Norberg wonders at the fact that Smith somehow anticipated and imagined the great wealth and prosperity a free market could produce, despite living centuries ago — long before the global trade and mass production abilities we have today. “Perhaps more than any other person, Adam Smith’s ideas have led directly to the first real, broad-based advancements in mankind’s quality of life in thousands of years,” says Norberg. “He was a proponent of free markets and morality. His writings and ideas have spread around the globe — and in spite of the progress we have yet to make, his ideas truly changed our world.”