Predecessors of Adam Smith: The Growth of British Economic Thought

Predecessors of Adam Smith: The Growth of British Economic Thought

Predecessors of Adam Smith: The Growth of British Economic Thought

Predecessors of Adam Smith: The Growth of British Economic Thought

Excerpt

A wide man once told me that no one should write a book about the history of economic thought until he was sixty years of age. For a young man to flout good advice is disrespectful, while to plunge into the worst quicksands of doctrinal history is foolhardy. I have long felt, however, that British economic literature before Adam Smith has often been misunderstood because many critics have been at too great pains to classify all pre-Smithian writers as mercantilists or free-traders. Either word is hard to define, although unless there is complete agreement as to their meanings, they can scarcely be used as critical categories. There is, I believe, a much more forthright way in which to deal with the voluminous literature of early English economic thought: the emphasis ought to be placed on a developing fabric of ideas, and each important new intellectual strand influencing the composition of this fabric should be signalized. In view of the great number of economic writers before Adam Smith, and in view of their widely differing interests, training, and prejudices, this is no easy task. An initial attempt can be made, however, by the careful selection of a limited number of writers whose points of view are representative of a group of economic pamphleteers. By explaining quite completely the corpus of their respective economic ideas, and by linking these segments together, the growth of a fabric of ideas may be outlined with a minimum of unwarranted generalization.

I have received so much help in the preparation of this book that my list of acknowledgments is a long one; even so, I am afraid that I may have overlooked some persons whose advice . . .

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