The Radical Old Idea is a platform inspired by the historic Scottish enlightenment that seeks to inform a new and better financial paradigm. The periodic intellectual gathering of financial services stakeholders will explore innovative (radical) ideas that deliver positive financial and economic outcomes for the benefit of society.

As economic growth continues to polarise and place greater demands on the world’s natural resources, policy makers and economic thinkers from across the globe are now re-examining the historic belief that only unfettered financial markets deliver the best outcomes for all society. The Radical Old Idea focuses on exploring areas of systemic change within the economy through world leading experts sharing insights and engaging in an informed and thoughtful debate.

Radical Old Idea events have featured some of the leading thinkers on modern finance and economics. Our Wealth of Nations in the 21st Century essay series brought together experts from finance, business, politics and academia to reimagine Adam Smith's seminal work for the 21st century.

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The world is changing, people are rethinking.

Scotland - A Proud Heritage

From Adam Smith, renowned as the father of modern economics, to the Reverend Henry Duncan, founder of the world’s first commercial savings bank, Scotland has been a pioneer in financial innovation and the development of professional standards.

Francis Hutcheson - Impact Investing

David Hume - Advanced Analytics

David Hume - Advanced Analytics

Adam Smith - Inclusive Growth

Adam Smith - Inclusive Growth

Rev. Henry Duncan - Financial Inclusion


Enlightened Edinburgh

The Radical Old Idea encourages brave, innovative concepts reinforcing Edinburgh’s position as a global facilitator and HQ for ethical finance.

In convening senior financial practitioners, business leaders, economists and academics 2-3 times a year in Edinburgh The Radical Old Idea restores the city’s rightful place as a hothouse of global economic and social debate.

To encourage an inclusive international approach, we are open to occasionally hosting events elsewhere.

Recent Event

What is the difference between risk and uncertainty?

In the latest instalment of our Radical Old Idea series, which took place on Wednesday January 25 at 1300, economist and author John Kay explored the differences and what they mean for finance in an interview with series host Kaisie Rayner.

As he explains in his recent book Radical Uncertainty, authored with former Bank of England governor Mervyn King, risk refers to situations which are not precisely known but can be modelled with some accuracy, like the roll of a dice. Radical uncertainty, by contrast, is those events which were “outside the model”, such as a global pandemic, or a war.

As the world economy seeks to recover from two major such events, we ask why finance struggles to deal with them, and whether it can improve.

Previous Events

The Radical Old Idea

Dr Katherine Trebeck of the Edinburgh Futures Institute and co-founder of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance – WEAll, joined us on Wednesday 2nd November to discuss the economics of arrival.

In an interview with series host Kaisie Rayner FRSA of GEFI and A future worth living in, Dr Trebeck will shared her ideas behind her book the Economics of Arrival.

Co-authored with Jeremy Williams, the book questions the need for constant economic growth, and seeks to reimagine what economies might look like. This event seeks to make a radical idea real by asking how finance might need to adapt to deliver an economy with a destination in sight.

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COP26: Adam Smith at the COP

During the 18th Century, the Scottish Enlightenment put the Glasgow at the heart of world thinking. In 2021, as the world came to Glasgow for COP26, we asked what we can learn from one of the great pioneers of the Scottish Enlightenment: the renowned economist and former lecturer at the University of Glasgow, Adam Smith.

Our Radical Old Idea programme for COP26 took the shape of Adam Smith at the COP, consisting of an essay series, The Wealth of Nations in the 21st Century, and 3 evening lectures themed around the essay series. The Wealth of Nations in the 21st Century consists of 5 essays on the economics of the climate crisis, each inspired by one of the 5 books of Smith’s 1776 original  An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Read more or download the essay series now, which includes contributions from Nicola Sturgeon, Usha Rao-Monari and Prof. Sir Anton Muscatelli.

The essay series, supported by Royal London, launched at the University of Glasgow during COP26. Across 3 evenings at the university where Smith had taught 250 years earlier, we explored some of the macroeconomic themes of the climate conference, with On the Nature and Employment of Stock: Stewardship in the Climate Era (click here to watch) and The Political Economy of Climate Change: Who Pays for Climate Action (click here to watch), as well as a unique hybrid lecutre & performance entitled The Life & Times of Adam Smith.

The Future of Growth

‘The Radical Old Idea: The Future of Growth’, took place on 14 July at 14:00 with renowned ecological economist Prof. Tim Jackson. The ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ author looked at the presumption that our economies should grow year on year.

When the early pioneers of climate science first questioned this in the 1970s, Kenneth Boulding famously stated that “anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.”

In the interview with Kaisie Rayner, Climate Change Lead at Royal London, Prof. Jackson previewed his latest book ‘Post-Growth: Life after Capitalism’, looking at the case against infinite growth, and asking how we imagine a future without growth.

From banking to pensions, it is taken for granted that companies and economies will continue to expand indefinitely, providing a greater pool of resources for tomorrow than today. This session will asked whether it is possible to wean ourselves off growth, and what this might mean both for those industries which currently depend on it, and their stakeholders, and how to maintain hope during times of crisis. Watch now on EFx.

Tim’s latest book Post Growth can be purchased at

Responsible Business at a Time of Crisis with Alex Edmans

We were delighted to launch the Radical Old Idea series on 23 June with a virtual presentation from Professor Alex Edmans of London Business School who explained the business case for responsibility in normal times as well as those of crisis, and how companies can ensure that responsibility is consistent with long-term shareholder value. Alex drew on rigorous academic research, real-world examples, and his new book, Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit. Watch the highlights now, or read the event summary.

About us

Global Ethical Finance Initiative

At GEFI we convene financial services stakeholders who share a collective desire to create a financial system that delivers for people and the planet. In shaping this vision, GEFI takes inspiration from the Scottish enlightenment – one of the most important intellectual eras when received wisdom was questioned and new ideas, discussions and debates were encouraged.

Supporting partner

David Hume Institute

If you are interested in attending, speaking, sponsoring or promoting The Radical Old Idea please get in touch by email.

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