Business Ethics speaker series: Professor Adam Dixon

How to think like Adam Smith: Reflections on the ‘father of economics’ for a disjunctive present

 As notionally the 'father of modern economics' and a key figure in the social sciences and philosophy more generally, Adam Smith and his works have been often looked to for answers on pressing social and economic questions, or as guides to justify public policy. He has and continues to be an icon of capitalism the world over. Hence, a common refrain is, what would Adam Smith think? Or, at least, that is a question I receive frequently from visitors to Panmure House. Attempting to ascertain what Adam Smith would think about any range of topics in today's world is, however, impossible. He lived and wrote in a time that was pre-capitalist, pre-industrial and pre-democratic. As such, he may have very different views of the world we live in today, the problems we face, the choices we have made, and the choices we should make. Although it is impossible to say what Adam Smith would think, we can approximate how he would think. Such an exercise is still fraught with interpretive challenges, as how Adam Smith would think, that is his method, is also debatable. Yet, asking how Adam Smith would think is an exercise less liable to the presentism of asking what Adam Smith would think. In this lecture I make the case for approaching Adam Smith in this manner. By way of example, I apply this logic to three contemporary topics: the increase of state intervention; the challenges of climate change; and the growth of AI.

Adam D. Dixon holds the Adam Smith Chair in Sustainable Capitalism at Adam Smith’s Panmure House, the last and final home of moral philosopher and father of economics Adam Smith. Professor Dixon is recognized as a world-leading scholar on the political economy of sovereign wealth funds, theories of state capitalism, and the intersection of markets and the state in the sustainability transition. His books include, The New Frontier Investors: How Pension Funds, Sovereign Funds, and Endowments are Changing the Business of Investment Management and Long-Term Investing (Palgrave Macmillan 2016), The New Geography of Capitalism: Firms, Finance, and Society (Oxford University Press 2014) and Sovereign Wealth Funds: Legitimacy, Governance, and Global Power (Princeton University Press, 2013). Trained as an economic geographer and political economist in the United States, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom, Adam brings an interdisciplinary perspective to this work. Previously, Adam worked at the University of Bristol and Maastricht University in the Netherlands, where he led a large European Research Council project on sovereign wealth funds. He holds a D.Phil. in economic geography from the University of Oxford, a Diplôme (Master) de l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, and a BA in international affairs and Spanish literature from The George Washington University in Washington, DC.