Adam Smith

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© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Adam Smith: Radical and Egalitarian : An Interpretation for the 21st Century
Iain McLean.
Edinburgh University Press, 2006
FREE! An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
Adam Smith; C. J. Bullock.
P. F. Collier & Son, 1909
The Life of Adam Smith
Ian Simpson Ross.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Adam Smith Reviewed
Peter Jones; Andrew S. Skinner.
Edinburgh University Press, 1992
FREE! Adam Smith
Francis W. Hirst.
Macmillan, 1904
The House of Adam Smith
Eli Ginzberg.
Octagon Books, 1964
Adam Smith as Student and Professor: With Unpublished Documents, Including Parts of the "Edinburgh Lectures", a Draft of the Wealth of Nations, Extracts from the Muniments of the University of Glasgow and Correspondence
William Robert Scott; Adam Smith.
Jackson, Son & Company, 1937
Adam Smith and the Scotland of His Day
C. R. Fay.
University Press, 1956
Essays on Philosophical Subjects
Adam Smith; W. P.D. Wightman; J. C. Bryce; Dugald Stewart; I. S. Ross; D. D. Raphael; A. S. Skinner.
Oxford University Press, 1980
Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue: The Moral and Political Foundations of the Wealth of Nations
Athol Fitzgibbons.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Adam Smith's Moral and Political Philosophy
Herbert W. Schneider; Adam Smith.
Hafner, 1948
Free Trade and Moral Philosophy: Rethinking the Sources of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations
Richard F. Teichgraeber III.
Duke University Press, 1986
A System of Social Science: Papers Relating to Adam Smith
Andrew Stewart Skinner.
Clarendon Press, 1996 (2nd edition)
FREE! A Short History of Political Economy in England, from Adam Smith to Arnold Toynbee
L. L. M.A. Price.
Methuen, 1903 (4th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Adam Smith. 1723-1790"
Adam Smith's Legacy: His Place in the Development of Modern Economics
Michael Fry.
Routledge, 1992
Adam Smith and the Classics: The Classical Heritage in Adams Smith's Thought
Gloria Vivenza.
Oxford University Press, 2001
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