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Adam Smith's Publishes "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations"

Portrait of Adam Smith

"Portrait of the political economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) by an unknown artist, which is known as the ‘Muir portrait’ after the family who once owned it. The portrait was probably painted posthumously, based on a medallion by James Tassie." National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1776 Scottish Economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith published in London An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

Smith argued "that the free market, while appearing chaotic and unrestrained, is actually guided to produce the right amount and variety of goods by a so-called "invisible hand". . . . Smith believed that while human motives were often driven by selfishness and greed, the competition in the free market would tend to benefit society as a whole by keeping prices low, while still building in an incentive for a wide variety of goods and services. Nevertheless, he was wary of businessmen and argued against the formation of monopolies.

An often-quoted passage from The Wealth of Nations is:

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.

"Value theory was important in classical theory. Smith wrote that the "real price of every thing ... is the toil and trouble of acquiring it" as influenced by its scarcity. Smith maintained that, with rent and profit, other costs besides wages also enter the price of a commodity.Other classical economists presented variations on Smith, termed the 'labour theory of value'. Classical economics focused on the tendency of markets to move to long-run equilibrium.

"Smith also believed that a division of labour would effect a great increase in production. One example he used was the making of pins. One worker could probably make only twenty pins per day. However, if ten people divided up the eighteen steps required to make a pin, they could make a combined amount of 48,000 pins in one day" (quotations from Wikipedia article on Adam Smith, accessed 01-14-2009).

While I have not seen edition size information for the first edition of Smith's Wealth of Nations, the edition must have been comparatively large—well over 1000 copies. According to American Book Prices Current, since 1975 there have been about 100 copies of the first edition sold at auction.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 221.

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