Adam Smith in the 21st Century

A post on the Economist’s Free Exchange blog - about Adam Smith’s house in Edinburgh going on sale - reminded me of a childhood fantasy, and caused me to think how it could be brought up to date.

Adam Smith (and many other free-marketers since) have had a lot to say about the ingenuity of the human spirit and the market’s ability to do a better job of enriching humans than central planning. Nevertheless, I sometimes still wonder about the extent to which new ideas are sometimes missed, even in strong market arenas, because existing ones are taken for granted.

If Adam Smith could be brought into the 21st Century, with a time machine (this is where the childhood fantasy comes in), what would he think? After the initial shock had subsided, would he be pleased with the globalised world we’ve built, or would he be disappointed by general economic ignorance?

But here’s the real puzzle - if one showed him that it’s now possible to get from London to New York in 7 hours, would he be impressed with what we’ve managed to do with that capability, or disappointed? Would he think it’s cool that we can eat fruit from the other side of the planet, or think that the human race is hardly stretching itself?

I’d love to know.