Adam Smith: The Invisible Hand

Kirkcaldy 4 All
Panmure House – until August 25th
3 Stars (3 / 5)

Adam Smith, often credited as “the father of modern economics” – if not indeed the first economist, popularised the until then obscure notion that the interest of individuals were harmonious, and that for one to profit they did not have to do so at the expense of anyone else. After all, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

This historical drama explores the life and philosophy of Adam Smith, going to pains to separate his classical liberal views from the “casino capitalism” of the 21st century that is held t be his legacy. Smith fought against crony-capitalism, or “Mercantilism”, as it was called in his day, and demonstrated how free markets could lift those at the bottom out of poverty by allowing them to trade value for value – making themselves and those whom they traded with richer by means of exchange.

The play is educational. It’s strongest points are the sparks of humour and the dramatised scenes, such as when Smith is confronted by the French radical Jean Jaques Rousseau for not being revolutionary enough – and when he meets the merry cameraderie of the great wit, Voltaire. He also confides in his friend and mentor David Hume who encourages him in his work. Smith’s plot dovetails with the contemporary story of a young woman who has found a box of his letters and wishes to sell them to the local university at a profit. Some parallels are drawn between this story and the philosophy of Smith but not enough to justify the amount of stage time it gets, as between the exchanges between her and the university lecturer and the straight narration (of which there is much) too much is told and not enough is shown.

This is a very ambitious work – it is no easy task to turn the life and ideals of a philosopher into enthralling theatre – and it certainly succeeds on many accounts. But, just as Smith continued to revise his great work The Wealth of Nations until his death, The Hidden Hand may yet benefit from some refinement that its true beauty might shine brighter.