Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The classic statement of economic liberalism, the policy of laissez-faire, was written during a ten-year period by Adam Smith, a Scottish professor of moral philosophy. The book’s ideas were useful in encouraging the rise of new business enterprise in Europe, but the ideas could not have taken hold so readily had it not been for the scope of Smith’s work and the effectiveness of his style.
As a philosopher, Smith was interested in finding intellectual justification for certain economic principles that he came to believe, but as an economist and writer, he was interested in making his ideas prevail in the world of business. He was reacting against oppressive systems of economic control that were restricting the growth of business, but although he concerned himself with general principles and their practical application, he was aware of the value of the individual, whether employer or laborer. There is no reason to believe Smith would have sanctioned monopolistic excesses of business or any unprincipled use of the free enterprise philosophy. To cite him in reverential tones is not to gain his sanction.
Smith begins his work with the assumption that whatever a nation consumes either is the product of the annual labor of that nation or is purchased with the products of labor. The wealth of the nation depends upon the proportion of the produce that goes to the consumers, and that proportion depends partly upon the proportion of those who are...
(The entire section is 1562 words.)
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