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The Influence of Adam Smith - Scottish Economist

Updated on March 19, 2013

Adam Smith, Political Economist

Adam Smith June 5, 1723 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. His writings would influence political economies around the world. He was educated at Glasgow and Oxford, though his graduation from Oxford remains uncertain. He was an avid lover of English literature and economics. He was appointed chair of logic in 1751 at Glasgow University. One year later, he transferred to the position of chair of moral philosophy from which he retired in 1764. He traveled extensively to France where he was heavily influenced by France's Physiocrats like Turgot and Necker. However, his theories on economics were formed earlier through self-study and deep thought on the subject.

The Works of Literature by Adam Smith

His first published work, a dissertation, was "Theory of Moral Sentiments." In this work, he presented his thoughts that sympathy provoked rising sentiments of moral issues. In 1766, Adam Smith returned to Kirkcaldy, Scotland and ten years later on March 9, 1776, his work "Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," was published. This single work pronounced Adam Smith an authority on economics relied on by statesmen, men of business and philosophers. Smith divided this work into several books that were referred to as Wealth of Nations. Each of the books focused on division of labor and rent, wages and profits, historical accounts of European development and an analysis of the mercantile system. Adam Smith was stringently opposed to the mercantile system and attacked its practices. Wealth of Nations also discussed freedom of trad and the cost of government as well as sources and uses of public revenues.

Following the publication of Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith was appointed to the customs commission as chief commissioner. He is most recognized for his writings on the problems of economics prior to the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Wealth of Nations major value was to discredit economic policies of the past and to promote overthrow of those institutions of modern society considered unsuitable and unsustainable for the long term.

Adam Smith and Laissez Faire

In his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith's writing was interpreted handily by industrialists to infer that government in France should keep hands off business. However, there was no intentional implication by Smith of this. Rather, he looked with disfavor upon immunity of businesses whose policies were detrimental to government. His proposal for division of labor existing in production processes portended the present day mass production.

In the USA, the early industrialists relied on Wealth of Nations to support unfavorable business practices and policies. As a result, the Robber Barons of the early 1900's managed to create monopolies by unfair competition, inequitable labor practices and helped spawn many of the anti-trust laws that resulted.

Adam Smith died in Kirkcaldy, Scotland on July 17, 1790, after living in Edinburgh for the remainder of his life.

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