Title: 'The Place of Glasgow in The Wealth of Nations: Caught between Biography and Text, Philosophical and Commercial History', History of Political Economy, 54 (5), 2022, 975-990. DOI: 10.1215/00182702-10005816.
This article will appear in a symposium of the leading journal in its field, History of Political Economy, at some stage in 2022. The symposium is called, 'Reading Practices in Political Economy: The Case of Adam Smith'. My contribution relates to what is permissible when confronted with an absence in a text, and the particular absence through which I illustrate my argument is that of the place that Smith knew best when formulating his economic theory, Glasgow. We know from biographical studies of his life that Smith shared deep connections with the Glasgow merchants of his day: socialising with them, forming lasting friendships, and using them as key interlocutors when trying to specify the general principles on which economic progress was founded. Yet we also know from the text of The Wealth of Nations that Smith made no mention of these connections and hid the merchants he knew so well within generic character types. Why might this have been so? The methodological argument against seeking to 'correct' such absences nevertheless permits clues to be identified in the text which might reveal why noticeable absences are there. I focus on the tension between two genres of history visible within the text. Smith placed great emphasis on writing history in a philosophical register as a means of bringing abstract principles of economic development to light, but the commercial history of Glasgow entailed an unnatural progression to a global entrepôt from the perspective of his commercial history.
Paper delivered to the Glasgow Competition Talks Seminar Series, School of Law, University of Glasgow
On October 14th 2021 I delivered a paper to the Glasgow Competition Talks Seminar Series at the University of Glasgow, for those with a research specialism in competition law. The paper was entitled ''The Market: The Economics and Politics of a Key Domain of Legal Thinking'.
Abstract: Competition law requires an engagement with lots of other disciplines, perhaps most notably with economics. Non-economists already talk about the economy all of the time, but the very familiarity of core economic ideas as they have taken hold in everyday life might be more of a hindrance than a help in understanding how competition law and economics interact. The obviously economic concept of ‘the market’ is, interestingly, one that is left largely implicit and undefined in modern economic theory. In many ways competition law acts to protect the integrity of the market, and it is a short step from that premise to making the directly political statement that it exists to allow the market to do what the market does best. In most models used by economists, this will mean ensuring that there are no distortions in the allocation of available economic resources, so that the economy in that purely hypothetical model world can work as efficiently as possible. This can very easily be translated into the political assumption that in the real world too markets should be left to their own devices to decide for us how the economy should be organised. However frequently we hear such claims, though, we should be sceptical of them, for they suggest that ‘the market’ is capable of identifying its interest in allocative efficiency and of having the will to enforce that interest. Yet ‘the market’ is clearly not a sentient being able to act in the same manner as a conscious human agent. How might we therefore make sense of the translation from economics to politics of the concept of allocative efficiency in a purely hypothetical model world to the assertion that ‘the market’ always knows best in the real world? My book, The Market, tackles this question by showing the very different ways in which the concept of ‘the market’ has entered economic theory, emphasising how recently it has been that the allocative efficiency definition of market dynamics has risen to prominence. Different economic definitions of ‘the market’ have different implications for competition law, and I demonstrate the varied ways in which that relationship might impact upon the thinking of competition lawyers.
On April 11th 2017 I delivered a paper at the Political Studies Association Annual Conference in Glasgow. The paper was entitled, 'Machonomics and the Politics of Inequality'. The panel, The Politics of Inequality, was convened by David Adler of the University of Oxford, and it was sponsored by the British and Comparative Political Economy PSA Specialist Group.
Abstract: Feminist scholars have described the behavioural traits that have flourished within the global economy in terms of their underlying hyper-masculinity. Whilst this literature has typically focused on a small number of business leaders around whom popular myths of wealth creation have developed, the same way of thinking might also be applied to policy-makers. At the very least, my study of George Osborne's time as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer reveals how consistently he adoped the mantle of hyper-masculinity in his approach to deficit reduction. It was an attitude to the task at hand I label 'machonomics'. This concept is designed to mean more than that the outcomes of his austerity programme disproportionately disadvantaged women. It also captures the type of policy-maker that Osborne tried so hard to convince others he was. This self-projection finds a parallel, I argue, in what the macroeconomic theory literature describes as the specifically 'conservative policy-maker', someone reputed for trusting his own judgement even in the face of widespread dissent against his anti-social policies. The conservative policy-maker exudes the hyper-masculinity that Osborne embodied in his refusal to voice opinions in public suggesting that there were viable alternatives to painful public expenditure cuts.
Whilst I was at the Conference, I also participated as one of the mentors in a 'speed mentoring' event run by the PSA's Early Career Network that covered all possible elements of academic career advice.