Synopses & Reviews
Adam Smith's masterpiece, first published in 1776, is the foundation of modern economic thought and remains the single most important account of the rise of, and the principles behind, modern capitalism. Written in clear and incisive prose, The Wealth of Nations articulates the concepts indispensable to an understanding of contemporary society; and Robert Reich's new Introduction for this edition both clarifies Smith's analyses and illuminates his overall relevance to the world in which we live. As Reich writes, "Smith's mind ranged over issues as fresh and topical today as they were in the late eighteenth century--jobs, wages, politics, government, trade, education, business, and ethics."
From the Trade Paperback edition.
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
Published in 1776, in the same year as the Declaration of Independence, The Wealth of Nations has had an equally great impact on the course of modern history. Adam Smith's celebrated defense of free market economies was written with such expressive power and clarity that the first edition sold out in six months. While its most remarkable and enduring innovation was to see the whole of economic life as a unified system, it is notable also as one of the Enlightenment's most eloquent testaments to the sanctity of the individual in his relation
to the state.
About the Author
Adam Smith was born in a small village in Kirkcaldy, Scotland in 1723. He entered the University of Glasgow at age fourteen, and later attended Balliol College at Oxford. After lecturing for a period, he held several teaching positions at Glasgow University. His greatest achievement was writing The Wealth of Nations (1776), a five-book series that sought to expose the true causes of prosperity, and installed him as the father of contemporary economic thought. He died in Edinburgh on July 19, 1790.
Reading Group Guide
1. Many of the concepts developed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations
-the nature of free trade, laissez-faire, the division of labor-were revolutionary notions in 1776, and remain central to contemporary liberal economic thought. Discuss contemporary economics in light of some of the key notions elaborated by Smith.
2. Smith famously writes: “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. . . .” What does Smith mean by “self-love” or “self-interest”?
3. As R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner write, The Wealth of Nations “was not only an intellectual achievement . . . embracing as it does the explanation of complex social relations on the basis of a few principles, but also a work which provided practical prescriptions for the problems of the day.” Discuss these aspects of Smiths work-analytical and prescriptive or historical; what is their relation? Is the one necessary for an appreciation of the other?
4. In his Introduction to this volume, Robert Reich notes that “The Wealth of Nations is resolutely about human beings-their capacities and incentives to be productive, their overall well-being, and the connection between productivity and well-being.” How does this statement, taken as a point of departure, shed light on Smiths book and its significance?
5. Although he is considered the founder of political economy (or modern economic thought more generally), Adam Smith considered himself a moral philosopher. How does looking at him in this way-as someone fundamentally concerned with questions of ethics-change your understanding or appreciation of his work?
From the Trade Paperback edition.