Those who favor government intervention in the economy often depict those who prefer free competition as pro-business apologists. This has been profoundly wrong for at least two centuries.
Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century father of free-market economics, was so scathingly critical of businessmen that it would be impossible to find a single favorable reference to them in his 900-page classic, The Wealth of Nations.1 Instead, Smith warned against "the clamour and sophistry of merchants and manufacturers," whom he characterized as people "who seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." Any suggestions about laws and policies coming from such people, he said, ought to be "carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention."
In the nineteenth century, the next great classical economist in the free-market tradition, David Ricardo, spoke of businessmen as "notoriously ignorant of the most obvious principles" of economics. Knowing how to run a business is not the same as understanding the larger and very different issues involved in understanding how the economy as a whole affects the population as a whole. Skepticism about the business community has remained part of the tradition of free-market economists throughout the twentieth century as well, with Milton Friedman's views being very similar to those of Adam Smith on this point.____________________