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An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the…
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An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

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The foundation for all modern economic thought and political economy, The Wealth of Nations is the magnum opus of Scottish economist Adam Smith, who introduces the world to the very idea of economics and capitalism in the modern sense of the words. Smith details his argument in five books: Book I. Of the Causes of Improvement in the Productive Power of LabourBook II. Of the Nature, Accumulation, and Employment of Stock IntroductionBook III. Of the Different Progress of Opulence in Different NationsBook IV. Of Systems of Political EconomyBook V. Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or CommonwealthTaken together, these books form a giant leap forward in the field of economics. A product of the "Age of Enlightenment," The Wealth of Nations is a must for all who wish to gain a better understanding of the principles upon which all modern capitalistic economies have been founded and the process of wealth creation that is engendered by those principles.… (més)
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Títol:An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
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La Riquesa de les nacions : indagació sobre la naturalesa i les causes de Adam Smith

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Despite its renown as the first great work in political economy, The Wealth of Nations is in fact a continuation of the philosophical theme begun in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The ultimate problem to which Smith addresses himself is how the inner struggle between the passions and the “impartial spectator”—explicated in Moral Sentiments in terms of the single individual—works its effects in the larger arena of history itself, both in the long-run evolution of society and in terms of the immediate characteristics of the stage of history typical of Smith’s own day.

The answer to this problem enters in Book V, in which Smith outlines the four main stages of organization through which society is impelled, unless blocked by wars, deficiencies of resources, or bad policies of government: the original “rude” state of hunters; a second stage of nomadic agriculture; a third stage of feudal, or manorial, “farming”; and a fourth and final stage of commercial interdependence.

It should be noted that each of these stages is accompanied by institutions suited to its needs. For example, in the age of hunters, “there is scarce any property…; so there is seldom any established magistrate or any regular administration of justice.” With the advent of flocks there emerges a more complex form of social organization, comprising not only “formidable” armies but the central institution of private property with its indispensable buttress of law and order as well. It is the very essence of Smith’s thought that he recognized this institution, whose social usefulness he never doubted, as an instrument for the protection of privilege, rather than one to be justified in terms of natural law: “Civil government,” he wrote, “so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” Finally, Smith describes the evolution through feudalism into a stage of society requiring new institutions, such as market-determined rather than guild-determined wages and free rather than government-constrained enterprise. This later became known as laissez-faire capitalism; Smith called it the system of perfect liberty.

There is an obvious resemblance between this succession of changes in the material basis of production, each bringing its requisite alterations in the superstructure of laws and civil institutions, and the Marxian conception of history. Though the resemblance is indeed remarkable, there is also a crucial difference: in the Marxian scheme the engine of evolution is ultimately the struggle between contending classes, whereas in Smith’s philosophical history the primal moving agency is “human nature” driven by the desire for self-betterment and guided (or misguided) by the faculties of reason.

The theory of historical evolution, although it is perhaps the binding conception of The Wealth of Nations, is subordinated within the work itself to a detailed description of how the “invisible hand” actually operates within the commercial, or final, stage of society. This becomes the focus of Books I and II, in which Smith undertakes to elucidate two questions. The first is how a system of perfect liberty, operating under the drives and constraints of human nature and intelligently designed institutions, will give rise to an orderly society. The question, which had already been considerably elucidated by earlier writers, required both an explanation of the underlying orderliness in the pricing of individual commodities and an explanation of the “laws” that regulated the division of the entire “wealth” of the nation (which Smith saw as its annual production of goods and services) among the three great claimant classes—labourers, landlords, and manufacturers.

This orderliness, as would be expected, was produced by the interaction of the two aspects of human nature: its response to its passions and its susceptibility to reason and sympathy. But whereas The Theory of Moral Sentiments had relied mainly on the presence of the “inner man” to provide the necessary restraints to private action, in The Wealth of Nations one finds an institutional mechanism that acts to reconcile the disruptive possibilities inherent in a blind obedience to the passions alone. This protective mechanism is competition, an arrangement by which the passionate desire for bettering one’s condition—“a desire that comes with us from the womb, and never leaves us until we go into the grave”—is turned into a socially beneficial agency by pitting one person’s drive for self-betterment against another’s.

It is in the unintended outcome of this competitive struggle for self-betterment that the invisible hand regulating the economy shows itself, for Smith explains how mutual vying forces the prices of commodities down to their “natural” levels, which correspond to their costs of production. Moreover, by inducing labour and capital to move from less to more profitable occupations or areas, the competitive mechanism constantly restores prices to these “natural” levels despite short-run aberrations. Finally, by explaining that wages and rents and profits (the constituent parts of the costs of production) are themselves subject to this same discipline of self-interest and competition, Smith not only provided an ultimate rationale for these “natural” prices but also revealed an underlying orderliness in the distribution of income itself among workers, whose recompense was their wages; landlords, whose income was their rents; and manufacturers, whose reward was their profits.

Smith’s analysis of the market as a self-correcting mechanism was impressive. But his purpose was more ambitious than to demonstrate the self-adjusting properties of the system. Rather, it was to show that, under the impetus of the acquisitive drive, the annual flow of national wealth could be seen to grow steadily.

Smith’s explanation of economic growth, although not neatly assembled in one part of The Wealth of Nations, is quite clear. The core of it lies in his emphasis on the division of labour (itself an outgrowth of the “natural” propensity to trade) as the source of society’s capacity to increase its productivity. The Wealth of Nations opens with a famous passage describing a pin factory in which 10 persons, by specializing in various tasks, turn out 48,000 pins a day, compared with the few pins, perhaps only 1, that each could have produced alone. But this all-important division of labour does not take place unaided. It can occur only after the prior accumulation of capital (or stock, as Smith calls it), which is used to pay the additional workers and to buy tools and machines.

The drive for accumulation, however, brings problems. The manufacturer who accumulates stock needs more labourers (since labour-saving technology has no place in Smith’s scheme), and, in attempting to hire them, he bids up their wages above their “natural” price. Consequently, his profits begin to fall, and the process of accumulation is in danger of ceasing. But now there enters an ingenious mechanism for continuing the advance: in bidding up the price of labour, the manufacturer inadvertently sets into motion a process that increases the supply of labour, for “the demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates the production of men.” Specifically, Smith had in mind the effect of higher wages in lessening child mortality. Under the influence of a larger labour supply, the wage rise is moderated and profits are maintained; the new supply of labourers offers a continuing opportunity for the manufacturer to introduce a further division of labour and thereby add to the system’s growth.

Here then was a “machine” for growth—a machine that operated with all the reliability of the Newtonian system with which Smith was quite familiar. Unlike the Newtonian system, however, Smith’s growth machine did not depend for its operation on the laws of nature alone. Human nature drove it, and human nature was a complex rather than a simple force. Thus, the wealth of nations would grow only if individuals, through their governments, did not inhibit this growth by catering to the pleas for special privilege that would prevent the competitive system from exerting its benign effect. Consequently, much of The Wealth of Nations, especially Book IV, is a polemic against the restrictive measures of the “mercantile system” that favoured monopolies at home and abroad. Smith’s system of “natural liberty,” he is careful to point out, accords with the best interests of all but will not be put into practice if government is entrusted to, or heeds, “the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind.”

The Wealth of Nations is therefore far from the ideological tract it is often assumed to be. Although Smith preached laissez-faire (with important exceptions), his argument was directed as much against monopoly as against government; and although he extolled the social results of the acquisitive process, he almost invariably treated the manners and maneuvers of businessmen with contempt. Nor did he see the commercial system itself as wholly admirable. He wrote with discernment about the intellectual degradation of the worker in a society in which the division of labour has proceeded very far; by comparison with the alert intelligence of the husbandman, the specialized worker “generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to become.”

In all of this, it is notable that Smith was writing in an age of preindustrial capitalism. He seems to have had no real presentiment of the gathering Industrial Revolution, harbingers of which were visible in the great ironworks only a few miles from Edinburgh. He had nothing to say about large-scale industrial enterprise, and the few remarks in The Wealth of Nations concerning the future of joint-stock companies (corporations) are disparaging. Finally, one should bear in mind that, if growth is the great theme of The Wealth of Nations, it is not unending growth. Here and there in the treatise are glimpses of a secularly declining rate of profit; and Smith mentions as well the prospect that when the system eventually accumulates its “full complement of riches”—all the pin factories, so to speak, whose output could be absorbed—economic decline would begin, ending in an impoverished stagnation.

The Wealth of Nations was received with admiration by Smith’s wide circle of friends and admirers, although it was by no means an immediate popular success. The work finished, Smith went into semiretirement. The year following its publication he was appointed commissioner both of customs and of salt duties for Scotland, posts that brought him £600 a year. He thereupon informed his former charge that he no longer required his pension, to which Buccleuch replied that his sense of honour would never allow him to stop paying it. Smith was therefore quite well off in the final years of his life, which were spent mainly in Edinburgh with occasional trips to London or Glasgow (which appointed him a rector of the university). The years passed quietly, with several revisions of both major books but with no further publications. He died at the age of 67, full of honours and recognition, and was buried in the churchyard at Canongate with a simple monument stating that Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, lay there. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Oct 29, 2021 |
Long, boring, and dated. This book was clearly written for Smith's contemporaries, and consequently it consists of hardly anything but useless information. ( )
  celestialfarmer | Feb 1, 2021 |
A great book, but not for everyone. Amazing insights which are still as valid today as 1775 when the book was written.

Very detailed, great analysis and I really learned a lot from this book. Hard to read in sections, as it is written in very verbose, antiquated English.

I would recommend it if you are interested in Economics and want to gain a perspective from first principles. ( )
  rendier | Dec 20, 2020 |
Many of the examples are dated, yet I am astonished at how closely what he describes matches what goes on today. The one that really surprised me was his description of what we now call arbitrage. He wrote this at a time when simultaneous trading in different markets was impractical if not impossible.

"The idea of the possibility of multiplying paper money to almost any extent was the real foundation of what is called the Mississippi scheme, the most extravagant project, both of banking and stock-jobbing, that perhaps the world ever saw." (Page 204 of 619)

Bounties (encouragement of exportation) create a double taxation on the people. The principal benefit is to the importers and exporters. It also tends to devalue the currency and make the effects of lean years more severe. Tariffs often don't help those they are intended to help, and always hurt the welfare of the general public.

There is a lot about the economics of colonies, and more on monopolies being detrimental to the society. I am enjoying his comments about the state of various European and New World economies. One of the notable observations is that in the New World they get greater value from developing the land than from manufacturing because of the labor shortage caused by the ready availability of free or cheap land.

He went on at great length on various means of funding roads, and joint stock companies compared with private charters.

I was continually amazed at the breadth of material that he covered. He compared Greek, Roman, and European educational methods, with especially attention to who should pay for it; discussing the advantages and disadvantages of various means of funding education.

I was surprised to find quite a few pages describing the rise of Lutheran and Calvinistic doctrine. The established churches had grown (fat and lazy) and were not able to defend themselves against the upstarts, even though those in the established churches were better educated.

That last part covered a multitude of taxation schemes & analyzed their relative abilities to retard the economy.
( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3368716.html

I am not especially well versed in economics, so I had been looking forward to reading this classic text. I’m afraid I lasted only about a hundred pages. The content is all good and well argued, but Smith is not Gibbon (coincidentally, I had a distant cousin whose maiden name was Smyth and married a man whose name was Gibbon) and without the delights of Gibbon’s style, the detailed prose was a bit wearing, especially given my general state of mind, driven by the current situation; I am looking for comfort reading, not education at the moment. Some day I shall invest in a nice readable Economics 101 text book and educate myself properly in the dismal science, which I guess may also have moved on a bit since the eighteenth century. ( )
  nwhyte | May 3, 2020 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Smith, Adamautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Adler, Mortimer J.Editorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Bullock, C. J.Editorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Cannan, EdwinEditorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Deichmann, CraigNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Eliot, Charles WilliamEditorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Hutchins, Robert MaynardEditorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Kankaanpää, JaakkoTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Krueger, Alan B.Introduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Mises, Ludwig vonIntroduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Scott, George C.Narradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Seligman, Edwin R.A.Introduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Todd, William B.Editorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.
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It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.
Labor...is the only universal, as well as the only accurate measure of value, or the only standard by which we can compare the values of different commodities at all times and at all places.
The property which every man has is his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.
The interest of the dealers...in any particular branch of trade or manufactures is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public.
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Complete work. Do not combine with abridged versions or partial editions (e.g. editions that only have books 1–3 instead of all 5).
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The foundation for all modern economic thought and political economy, The Wealth of Nations is the magnum opus of Scottish economist Adam Smith, who introduces the world to the very idea of economics and capitalism in the modern sense of the words. Smith details his argument in five books: Book I. Of the Causes of Improvement in the Productive Power of LabourBook II. Of the Nature, Accumulation, and Employment of Stock IntroductionBook III. Of the Different Progress of Opulence in Different NationsBook IV. Of Systems of Political EconomyBook V. Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or CommonwealthTaken together, these books form a giant leap forward in the field of economics. A product of the "Age of Enlightenment," The Wealth of Nations is a must for all who wish to gain a better understanding of the principles upon which all modern capitalistic economies have been founded and the process of wealth creation that is engendered by those principles.

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