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Capitalism and the Queen

Throughout her life and reign, Queen Elizabeth II comported herself in the mold of the disinterested, dutiful "impartial spectator" that Adam Smith had extolled. While Smith is often treated as a free-market champion, his thought was closer to that of Cicero and Marcus Aurelius than Margaret Thatcher.

LOS ANGELES – It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth. It also might seem like these two famous British figures have little to do with one another; Smith, after all, tends to be associated more with Margaret Thatcher, who was said to have kept a copy of The Wealth of Nations in her handbag. But Smith was more a humanist than a Thatcherite. Like the late queen, he was interested in creating a happy, peaceful, prosperous, benevolent society through the promotion of Stoic ideals.

When Smith extolled the Stoic model of duty, he could have been describing Elizabeth II, who rarely if ever sounded like a free-market economist. Smith decried greed, mistrusted private companies, and believed that the values he cherished could best be embodied by an agrarian class of landowners whose main object was disinterested service to the state. As he saw it, this kind of arrangement was ideally suited to maintaining both political liberty and free markets.

Whether one admires the late British queen or not, it is hard to deny that she both loved the rhythm of country life and the rigors of duty to the state. She saw her role as that of an adviser who could unify British society, thereby allowing markets to operate freely and smoothly.

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