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

This week in The Spectator, Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute provides the details. He writes,

To describe a process is not to condone it. It is perfectly consistent to argue that slavery is ‘ubiquitous and inevitable’ while wanting to see it curtailed in all its forms. Indeed, Smith was one of history’s greatest allies against slavery—and often quoted by abolitionists in popular anti-slavery literature.

Let’s mark the 245th anniversary of Adam Smith’s hugely influential work not by a senseless re-writing of history or the application of poisonous presentism to his legacy, but by a celebration of his contributions. We can start in that regard with a sample of his wisdom in his very own words:

As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value, every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.

[M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. 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. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.

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