Few writings are more often cited as a cornerstone of modern economic thought than those of Adam Smith. Few are less read.
Founding father of economic conservatism, Smith nevertheless sympathized with the working class and scorned landlords and other capitalists whom he deemed incapable of heeding public regulations. Today his books are frequently quoted yet seldom read. To remedy this situation, Heilbroner (The Worldly Philosophers has done an admirable job of abridging The Wealth of Nations and Smith's other major writings. Current debate has centered on Smith's theory of the ``Invisible Hand,'' the self-regulating mechanism of a free-market economy, which has proved increasingly irrelevant in the face of structural unemployment and large-scale industry. But Heilbroner points out that the Invisible Hand, far more than a ghostly economic planner, was meant to provide the underpinnings for a workable system of social and moral order. Heilbroner emphasizes that Smith was far less optimistic than many people assume; though he considered capitalism the basis for personal freedom, he expected that both the propertied class and the workers would push for their narrow self-interests. The skillfully edited selections cut through Smith's cant and rhetoric. (April 28)