Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

Smith, Adam

Adam Smith, 1723–90, Scottish economist, educated at Glasgow and Oxford. He became professor of moral philosophy at the Univ. of Glasgow in 1752, and while teaching there wrote his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which gave him the beginnings of an international reputation. He traveled on the Continent from 1764 to 1766 as tutor to the duke of Buccleuch and while in France met some of the physiocrats and began to write An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, finally published in 1776.

In that work, Smith postulated the theory of the division of labor and emphasized that value arises from the labor expended in the process of production. He was led by the rationalist current of the century, as well as by the more direct influence of Hume and others, to believe that in a laissez-faire economy the impulse of self-interest would bring about the public welfare; at the same time he was capable of appreciating that private groups such as manufacturers might at times oppose the public interest. Smith was opposed to monopolies and the concepts of mercantilism in general but admitted restrictions to free trade, such as the Navigation Acts, as sometimes necessary national economic weapons in the existing state of the world. He also accepted government intervention in the economy that reduced poverty and government regulation in support of workers.

Smith wrote before the Industrial Revolution was fully developed, and some of his theories were voided by its development, but as an analyst of institutions and an influence on later economists he has never been surpassed. His pragmatism, as well as the leaven of ethical content and social insight in his thought, differentiates him from the rigidity of David Ricardo and the school of early 19th-century utilitarianism. In 1778, Smith was appointed commissioner of customs for Scotland. His Essays on Philosophical Subjects (1795) appeared posthumously.

See biographies by J. Rae (1895, repr. 1965), I. S. Ross (1995), J. Buchan (2006), and N. Phillipson (2010); studies by E. Ginzberg (1934, repr. 1964), T. D. Campbell (1971), S. Hollander (1973), and E. Rothschild (2001).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

FREE! An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
Adam Smith; C. J. Bullock.
P. F. Collier & Son, 1909
On Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations: A Philosophical Companion
Samuel Fleischacker.
Princeton University Press, 2004
Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of the Wealth of Nations
Athol Fitzgibbons.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Free Trade and Moral Philosophy: Rethinking the Sources of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations
Richard F. Teichgraeber III.
Duke University Press, 1986
Adam Smith and the Ambiguity of Nations
Berdell, John F.
Review of Social Economy, Vol. 56, No. 2, Summer 1998
Adam Smith Reviewed
Peter Jones; Andrew S. Skinner.
Edinburgh University Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Virtue and Improvement: The Civic World of Adam Smith"
Adam Smith on the Nature and Causes of Poverty
Gilbert, Geoffrey.
Review of Social Economy, Vol. 55, No. 3, Fall 1997
Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice
Roy Dilly.
Edinburgh University Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand -- of the Market?"
Adam Smith, 1776-1926: Lectures to Commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Publication of "The Wealth of Nations"
John Maurice Clark; Paul H. Douglas; Jacob H. Hollander; Glenn R. Morrow; Melchior Palyi; Jacob Viner.
University of Chicago Press, 1928
The Life of Adam Smith
Ian Simpson Ross.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Inquirer into the Wealth of Nations" and Chap. 15 "The American Crisis and the Wealth of Nations"
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