Adam Smith, Or: The More Things Change…

…the more they stay the same.

I have moved on from Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws to Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in my Honors course on Western thought (it is being taught by a professor who is part of this blogging consortium, in case you are curious; it is part of my daily reading).

Many, many things have stood out to me so far, but I would like to share two of them here. The first thing has to do with the back of the book (I am reading the cheap paperback published by Bantam and edited by Edwin Cannan). The back of the book plainly states:

He argues passionately in favor of free trade, yet stood up for the little guy [emphasis mine – BC].

This mischaracterization of classical liberalism (libertarianism) is not limited to the publishers of Adam Smith’s most popular work, and it frustrates me to no end that free trade and classical liberalism are somehow treated as arguments in favor of a privileged class.  The entire idea that drives classical liberalism is one that is rooted in the dignity of the individual and of the common man.  This is one fight that the libertarian should easily be winning, yet he is not.

The second passage that I would like to share is one that most of us are extremely familiar with, and can perhaps provide a chuckle rather than frustration (I know I laughed):

The annual produce of the land and labour of England […] is certainly much greater than it was, a little more than a century ago […] Though, at present, few people, I believe, doubt of this, yet during this period, five years have seldom passed away in which some book or pamphlet has not been published, written too with such abilities as to gain some authority with the public, and pretending to demonstrate that the wealth of the nation was fast declining, that the country was depopulated, agriculture neglected, manufactures decaying, and trade undone.  Nor have these publications all been party pamphlets, the wretched offspring of falsehood and venality.  Many of them have been written by very candid and very intelligent people; who wrote nothing but what they believed, and for no other reason but because they believed it.

Does this not sound awfully familiar? I could produce a number of links to a number of books and pamphlets on just this topic, but I am sure that readers had their own memories jarred when reading Smith’s keen observation. It looks as if we still have a lot of work to do.

7 thoughts on “Adam Smith, Or: The More Things Change…

  1. Hey, I saw that you liked my blog and I’d like to return the favor. You have a curious mind and state your points clearly. I may not agree 100 percent lock-step but I appreciate the read. And I also think you attend San Jose State? I went there for a year (journalism) and loved it. one problem, I don’t know how to like a post (kind of new to the word press deal). Any tips?

    • Hey thanks for the kind words. I am actually studying at UCLA, but one of my co-bloggers teaches Economics at SJSU.

      I don’t think this blog has a “like” button, so it’s all good. Usually, though, the “like” button is just beneath a blog post, so that once you finish reading a post, you will have the option to “like” it or not.

      Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed!

      P.S. I have two blogs. This is my “official” one, and I usually do my reading and my “liking” with the personal blog. Sorry to mix business with pleasure…

  2. Hi Brandon

    I concur with your thoughts on Adam Smith!! Very accurate how he is commonly misinterpreted. He is one of my favourite thinkers and I used to read The Wealth of Nations at University when I completed my politics degree. I really should rediscover his wisdom!

    Also, thank you for liking my blog post and I wanted to return the favor also. 🙂

    All the best and I shall keep a keen eye on your blog for future posts

    Drew Dinham (I have twitter also: @drewdinham) B.A. (Pol)(Adel), Grad Dip Jnl (USQ)

    • Drew,

      Of course! It is always nice to have some Aussies in the audience. Feel free to enlighten us with your thoughts on the nature of political economy in Australia and the Pacific Rim whenever you please.

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