The University of Sydney will be joining leading institutions and organisations around the world to celebrate the 300-year anniversary of Adam Smith who was a pioneer in the thinking of political economy. Led by our partner institution, the University of Glasgow, Smith around the World lecture series will take place embracing Smith’s foundation of economic theory and a precursor to the modern academic discipline of economics throughout 2023.
Adam Smith (1723–1790), Scottish moral philosopher and political economist, is one of the great founding figures of the modern social sciences. Indeed, one of two principal reasons for celebrating the 300th anniversary of his birth is that he is commonly regarded as the seminal figure in the creation of one particular social science: economics – or political economy, as it was then called. Certainly he was a pivotal figure in the formation of the discipline and decisive in raising it to a certain level of maturity. The second principal reason for marking this tercentenary is that Smith is also a key figure in the intellectual history of liberalism, with his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) in particular, a canonical work in the tradition of economic and political liberalism.
The intertwining of these two dimensions, social science and politics, can lead to distortions and parodies of the man and his thought, generated in the service of latter-day ideological purposes and conflicts. Against this, the aim of our symposium and public lectures is to recover the genuine voice and thought of the historical Adam Smith.
This lecture describes the changes in the nature of production and business organisation since the days of Adam Smith. Value is more and more the result of embedded collective intelligence, relatively less and less the result of material content. The iPhone costs fifty times as much per kilo as a pin. And it is a quarter of the weight and a quarter of the price of the first generation of mobile phones while having far greater functionality.
The modern business is defined and differentiated by its capabilities, not its production facilities. And the division of labour, whose importance Smith so appropriately emphasised, has developed functionally and geographically to an extent that Smith could not have dreamed of. In this lecture Sir John Kay speculates on how a modern Scottish economist might describe the nature and causes of the wealth of nations.
Sir John Kay is one of Britain’s leading economists. His interests focus on the relationships between economics and business. His career has spanned academic work and think tanks, business schools, company directorships, consultancies, and investment companies. For twenty years, he wrote a regular column for the Financial Times. He was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s 2021 Birthday Honours List for services to economics, business, and finance.
His witty and authoritative style has won a wide following for his books and articles, which have been recognised by numerous awards and prizes. Forty years after he co-authored The British Tax System (a book which went through five editions) with Mervyn King (who would later become Governor of the Bank of England and Lord King of Lothbury), the two authors came together again with a very different subject. Radical Uncertainty was published by The Bridge Street Press in March 2020.
Date and time: Thursday 16 November 2023, 5-7.30pm
5-6pm: Drinks and canapes
6-7:30pm: From the pin factory to the iPhone
Location: Social Sciences Lecture Theatre 200 (A02), Science Road, The University of Sydney NSW 2006.
This is a free event, however registration is essential. Please register by Sunday 5 November 2023.
A symposium held on Friday 26 May 2023. The symposium featured the following contributions:
Watch the video recording of 'Adam Smith at 300' public lecture, presented by Emeritus Professor Tony Aspromourgos.
The School of Economics', within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the University of Glasgow's Adam Smith 300 Year Anniversary commemorations are just one of the international collaborations supported by Strategic Partnerships and Engagement at the University of Sydney. To collaborate with us, submit a partnership enquiry to discuss how we can work together.
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Banner image: St Giles Cathedral with the statue of Adam Smith, Edinburgh. Photo taken by susanne2668 on Adobe Stock Images.