Adam Smith was trying to counter medieval church theology, which held that any self-interested behavior was sinful and detrimental. Smith countered that self-interest could yield valuable outcomes for society as people pursued specialization and market trade. Much later these quotes would be used to justify the greedy and grasping personae of homo economicus, illustrating how a little Adam Smith can prove to be a dangerous thing. For example, Max Lerner in 1937 would say that Adam Smith "sanctified predatory impulses" and "gave a new dignity to greed." By the 1980s the movie Wall Street has the financial tycoon Gordon Gecco reciting the mantra, "[G]reed is good...Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit... It's all about bucks. The rest is conversation."
Copyright © 2001, International Association of Torch Clubs, Inc. This article first appeared in Torch Magazine 75:1 (2001), 3-6.
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Wight, Jonathan. "A Little Adam Smith Is a Dangerous Thing." Torch Magazine 75, no. 1 (2001): 3-6.