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Adam Smith's dinner

Sampford, Charles (2009) Adam Smith's dinner. In Re-embedding the Markets : Crisis and Reinvention, 3-4 December 2009, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

In 1961, the East German government erected what they claimed was an anti-capitalist barricade. In 1989, this barricade was dismantled by those whom it was supposed to keep apart: the forces it was intended to contain had overwhelmed it. In the aftermath, the victims of Stalinist oppression and the planned economy opted for radical change. Some might have hoped that they would intellectually march resolutely westwards towards the forms of social democracy that had proven so successful in their nearest neighbours – Scandinavia, Germany and Austria – and stop when they had reached a point on the political spectrum with which they felt comfortable, and which worked for them. Unfortunately, they went to the opposite end of political economy. That choice was celebrated by those theorists who wanted our own countries to move in the same direction. Eastern Europe suffered a decline of 50% in its GDP.

Much earlier in 1653, Peter Stuyvesant had erected an earth and wooden wall to protect the westernmost settlement of a great commercial nation from those they imagined to be barbarians. In 1699 Stuyvesant’s barrier was dismantled by the British, who replaced it with a street named after the wall. So it came to be that one of the most inconsequential walls in history became one of history’s most famous streets. I am not sure if the Dutch had left some tulip bulbs on either side of the wall, perhaps as a reminder of capitalism’s first bubble, and an inspiration to later bubbles. However, many of the victims of the latest burst bubble are pretty keen to tear down that Wall.1 As in 1989, they want to take action against the guardians of the system that failed them. And the more they suffer, the more likely it is that they will demand radical change, and the more likely that the resulting change will go too far – as seems to have been the case in Eastern Europe after the terminal crisis of communism, and in the majority of democracies that fell in the dozen years following the Great Crash. The current reaction is so strong that some are even wondering what role there will be for markets. I was invited to address a conference in the EU Parliament last November on the topic ‘Capitalism: Quo Vadis?’, where I apologized to the international audience that the topic was posed in a dead European language because the answer to this question is not going to be determined by the west alone. The problems we have been addressing emerged in the west and have affected the rest. However, the answers will not come, solely from the west, and may even come primarily from the south and the east.

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ID Code: 43374
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Keywords: Market regulation, Economic Intervention, Political economy
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > POLICY AND ADMINISTRATION (160500)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Research Centres > Law and Justice Research Centre
Current > Schools > School of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 Charles Sampford
Deposited On: 20 Jul 2011 08:53
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2011 02:31

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