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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Aug-18 > Books in brief

Books in brief

Adam Smith: What He Thought and Why it Matters

by Jesse Norman (Allen Lane, £25)

The greatest issue of our time in political economy is how to reconcile societies to the process we now call globalisation, with all the inequality and insecurity that have come with it. We only need to mention Brexit, Trump and the Five-Star League government in Italy to explain why this matters. But all too often, any use of the phrase “Adam Smith” produces strong negative reactions: you are either a heartless neoliberal saying that freer markets are always the solution, or a complacent elitist who believes we already live in the best of all possible worlds.

This is a terrible mistake, as the MP and government minister Jesse Norman explains in this excellent intellectual biography of the most influential political economist of all time. It is a mistake because the 18th- century Scotsman, author of the famous Wealth of Nations of 1776 but also the less well-known Theory of Moral Sentiments of 1759, provided many of the insights we need today to unravel our current tangles.

Far from chiming with the often cited (but wrongly so) Margaret Thatcher quotation that “there is no such thing as society”, in Smith’s thought there was nothing but.

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In Prospect’s August issue: Zoe Williams argues that the first thing we need to do if we are to remain in the EU is to tackle the reasons why so many wanted out—namely pay and conditions at home and the impact of unfettered capitalism. Prospect’s Alex Dean and Tom Clark interviewed former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who says the liberal centre should keep the faith—there is another way to work closely with Europe, but the immigration question is central to finding that solution. Meanwhile, a group of writers including Wolfgang Münchau, Shashank Joshi and Owen Hatherley explain some of the pitfalls, prizes and things you hadn’t thought about when it comes to the UK’s relationship with the EU. Elsewhere in the issue: Former UK diplomat Tom Fletcher profiles the out-going UN human rights chief who is causing a stir by saying the things nobody else would dare. Steve Bloomfield asks what happened to Seymour Hersh—how did the legendary journalist come to echo the thoughts and ideas of Bashar al-Assad; and Phil Ball examines the crisis of male infertility asking: where has all the sperm gone?