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Adam Smith and the Communist Party

06/12/2011

First Minister Alex Salmond today highlighted the work of Adam Smith and his relevance to modern China in both his keynote address to the party school of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Beijing and in the presentation of a bronze of the famous Scots philosopher.

Mr Salmond also used the teachings of Adam Smith to raise the critical issue of climate justice, referencing the vital ongoing UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

First Minister Alex SalmondThe FM cited the Scottish philosopher's first masterpiece, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, during his address to some of China's emerging political figures - and highlighted Smith's contribution to the Enlightenment as an example of the kind of moral courage needed now to fight climate change.

Published in 1759, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, was translated into Chinese for the first time in 2009 and China's Premier, Wen Jiabao, has said he often carries the work - which preceded Smith's more famous work The Wealth of Nations - in his suitcase when he goes abroad.

Mr Salmond told his audience at the Central Party School - the highest institution to train new officials for the Communist Party of China - there were lessons to be learned in Scotland and China from Smith's teachings of moral philosophy and economics.

He said:

"Adam Smith lived at a time when Scotland was leading the world in thinking, innovation and invention - Scottish traits that continue to this day. Indeed when Vice Premier Li came to Scotland earlier this year, he was kind enough to start his speech in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle by saying he loved to be in Scotland 'the land of invention'.

"For just as China was the leader of invention in the ancient world - paper-making, the compass, printing and deep mine gas for example - Scotland in the eighteenth century was a hive of invention.

"Scotland, as a trailblazer in the industrial revolution, paved the way for development which brought millions out of poverty and established many aspects of the modern world. Just as China's current economic progress has brought hundreds of millions out of poverty.

"In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith talked about the impact of others' suffering. His words are instructive. Smith said: 'As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations'.

"This is a beautiful way of saying - use your imagination to understand the suffering of others. From that understanding comes compassion and action. Smith's theory was one of sympathy, empathy and solidarity.

"Climate change exacerbates the vast gulf in resources which already exist across our planet, but it also gives us an opportunity. Climate change highlights our true interdependence and must lead to real change.

"Climate change is the issue above all issues which illustrates humankind's interconnectedness across national boundaries. Climate is no respecter of border posts, cyclones don't turn back at passport control. In response we need a greater shared ownership of both the problem and the solution."

The FM also raised the importance of connecting development with human rights:

"Climate justice is what is required - linking human rights and development, putting people at the heart of our economic system, and allowing all to share the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution, and to do so in an equitable and fair way.

"Those who have benefitted and still benefit from emissions in the form of on-going economic development and increased wealth, mainly in the industrialised countries of the west, have an ethical obligation to share benefits with those who are today suffering from the effects of these emissions, mainly vulnerable people in developing countries.

"People in developing countries must have access to opportunities to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and not be told to 'do as I say, not as I did' by the rich and powerful developed countries.

"When he lectured at Cambridge University in 2009, Premier Wen quoted The Theory of Moral Sentiments, speaking especially favourably of the view 'that if the fruits of a society's economic development cannot be shared by all, it is morally unsound and risky, as it is bound to jeopardise social stability'."

Mr Salmond presented the school with a bronze of a sculpture of Adam Smith (1723-1790) which stands in Edinburgh's Royal Mile. The work by Scotland's leading monumental sculptor Sandy Stoddart was gifted by Sir Angus Grossart and was on display at Bute House earlier this year when the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Mr Liu Xiaoming made his first official visit to Scotland.