Saving Adam Smith: A Tale of Wealth, Transformation, and Virtue
by Jonathan B. Wight (Prentice Hall, 2002, 323 pp., $24.00; ISBN:0-13-065904-5.)

What's the book about?


This is an "academic" suspense novel in which the classical economist Adam Smith rises from the dead to reveal a dire warning to today's world: a free society and economy are threatened by a lapse of moral meaning.  Channeled through the mind of an aging truck mechanic in Virginia, Adam Smith's own words are used to discuss timeless issues: (1) is greed the foundation of human progress? and (2) is wealth the foundation for happiness? Surprising as it may seem to some, the real Adam Smith -- in contrast to the caricature economists created of him in the 20th century -- would have been appalled at both of these ideas. But will Adam Smith live long enough to get his message across to us?  Thus begins an adventure in which Rich Burns, a young college professor, takes Adam Smith on a cross-country journey of danger and discovery.


Adam Smith is best known for The Wealth of Nations (1776), a magnificent contribution to our understanding of markets. The concept of the 'invisible hand' as a metaphor for the power of markets to produce efficiently without supervision of government is the cornerstone of much modern economics. Yet Adam Smith believed that his most important contribution to science was an understanding of the role of emotions as the basis of action and as the foundation for a moral conscience. Smith's first great book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) laid the foundation for understanding the moral context in which the invisible hand operates.  In Saving Adam Smith the reader is given an entertaining and exciting format within which to debate the interconnections between Smith's view of morals and markets. Put simply, Adam Smith would be not be pleased if wealth became uncoupled from virtue.

What Does This Mean for Business?

Interest in the 'emotional' wisdom of Adam Smith has been soaring in the past fifteen years. The main reason for this is the emerging paradigm shift that is underway in economics which seeks to expand beyond the narrow "selfish individualism" of economic man. This paradigm shift encompasses a growing interest in altruism, cooperation, emotional intelligence, and the transpersonal search for meaning -- and the desire to understand the functioning of these concepts in the life of society and business. 'Economic' man is giving way to the 'social' man envisioned by Adam Smith when he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). Feeling, thinking, and acting in alignment with inner values and spirit provides meaning for stakeholders. In extreme cases the new business model finds its reason for existence as arising from moral meaning rather than profits -- from the hearts of its workers not their minds. In the words of Max DePree, chairman of Herman Miller, the purpose of the corporation is redemption, not profit: "[W]eigh the pragmatic in the clarifying light of the moral…. Reaching our potential is more important than reaching our goals."

Michael Ray at Stanford University School of Business is a leader of the Organizational Transformation model:  "The gateway from the old paradigm to the new is the individual, and changes in the individual come from the inside, from inner consciousness or spirit... their own personal transformation." Tom Peters was also an early proponent of values in the workplace, promoting intuitive, non-linear, right-brain management techniques.  Adam Smith turns out to have quite a bit to say about the role of feelings and values as guideposts to action. Saving Adam Smith contains an extensive Guide for those interested in following this literature.

Who should read this book?

Readers of all levels, ages, and backgounds will delight in discovering Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of market within the highly accessible format of a suspense novel. Students of economics, political science, philosophy, and other areas of ethics will benefit from understanding Smith’s vision for reconciling profit and conscience—for restoring virtue to its rightful place in social capital.

                  Read the Preface

                  Read the Opening Chapter

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