Will the Real A. Smith Please Stand Up!

Journal of Business Ethics 136 (1):119-132 (2016)
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Abstract

In both the public and the business world, in academe as well as in practice, the ideas of Adam Smith are regarded as the bedrock of modern economics. When present economic conditions and management practices are criticised, Adam Smith is referred to by defenders and detractors of the current status quo alike. Smith, it is believed, defined the essential terms of reference of these debates, such as the rational pursuit of self-interest on part of the individual and the resultant optimal allocation of goods in free markets thanks to the workings of an “invisible hand.” In this article, we question whether this standard view of Smith, the economist, is tenable. We provide an extensive review of the extant secondary literature from economists, business ethicists, and philosophers, comparing their assessments to crucial elements of Smith’s theoretical system. As a result, we show that Smith, far from being an advocate of a value-free or even value-averse conception of economic transactions, stood for a virtue-based and values-oriented model of business. Accordingly, we argue current management education and the pedagogy of business ethics ought to be changed, and certain strategic conclusions drawn for business practice.

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