God and the Market: Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand

Journal of Business Ethics 108 (4):429-438 (2012)
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Abstract

The invisible hand image is at the centre of contemporary debates about capacities of markets, on which discussion of many other topics in business ethics rests. However, its meaning in Adam Smith’s writings remains obscure, particularly the religious associations that were obvious to early readers. He drew on Isaac Newton’s theories of divine action and providence, mediated through the moderate Calvinism of the eighteenth century Scottish circles in which he moved. I argue within the context of Smith’s general providential account of markets, the invisible hand operates restrain inequality and capital flight, thereby stabilizing the market system. Such an understanding of the invisible hand raises questions for contemporary religious and secular discussions of the capacities of markets in the wake of the global financial crisis.

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