Reflecting On Adam Smith’s The Wealth Of Nations, 245 Years Later

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The first ten days in the month of March 1776 brought forth momentous events that played roles in shaping the modern world.

The American Revolutionary War was not quite a year old. On March 2, American troops began shelling the British-occupied city of Boston. Two days later, they reclaimed Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston’s harbor, leading to the Brits’ evacuation of the city within a fortnight. Meanwhile, in the South, militia from South Carolina and Georgia attacked a British fleet with fire ships in the Battle of the Rice Boats.

On March 3, American naval commodore Esek Hopkins took Nassau, the Bahamas from the British in one of the first engagements of the fledgling American Navy and Marines.

Three thousand miles away in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 9, a professor published a new book in which he noted, “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.”

Of these various developments, which do you think produced the greatest long-term consequences?

Correct answer: It was the book with the dog revelation.

Taking Boston was a milestone but arguably, American colonists were sooner or later likely to gain independence regardless of the disposition of one town. The battle in the South was a minor skirmish. The Continental forces left Nassau and returned to Connecticut before month’s end. In the war between the Americans and the British, March came in like the proverbial lion but went out like the quiet lamb.

The book that appeared on March 9, however, was a barnburner. It was An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations by the moral philosopher Adam Smith. 245 years ago today, it made its debut. Economics has never been the same since.

In fact, before Smith, Economics wasn’t really much of a science of its own. Not every word in Smith’s book was new and original. Smith drew many ideas from previous thinkers much as, say, Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State drew heavily from Mises, Menger, and more. But Smith pulled together some ideas of others, added many of his own, and presented it all in one comprehensive tome that earned him the title, “Father of Economics.”

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