The Betrayal of Adam Smith

How conservatives made him their icon and distorted his ideas

Kim Phillips-Fein

How did Smith’s ideas become so thoroughly integrated into conservative defenses of the free market against regulation? And are these the only ways of reading his work? These are the questions at the heart of Adam Smith’s America, Glory M. Liu’s intriguing account of Smith’s reception in the United States. Her capacious monograph demonstrates the variety of uses to which Smith’s work has been put since its publication in the late eighteenth century, showing how politically contested readings of Smith always have been. In so doing, she illustrates a broader point still: The vision of the free market that emerged in the late twentieth century is itself highly specific to our historical moment—it was not the way that people (even economists) thought about economic life before and likely not the only way they will conceive of it in the future….