The Wealth of Nations

Often people mention Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in the same reverent way they mention the Bible. Most of these folks think they know what these works say, but few have actually read more than bits and pieces of either.

I’m proud to say that I have read Adam Smith’s WoN from cover to cover. Yes, it took me two years because a goodly portion of the work is outdated and because I can tolerate only a limited amount of detail on the sheep trade in England in the 1700s in one sitting. I did however get through it and I took notes because Smith came up with many zinger observations and insights that still hit the mark today. I have a long list of them in my copy of his book.

To be fair, I’m not surprised that so few general readers tackle Smith. My nearly two pound Modern Library edition is over a thousand pages and that’s more than daunting to a generation that reads so little and reads mostly litter when it does read. To be honest, if I didn’t read for a living and have 18th and 19th Century British lit as my specialty areas, I might not have tackled it myself, although once in, I found Smith’s style quite elegantly clear.

What alarms me is not that so few people have read WoN. What alarms me is that so few economists are familiar with it.

At the least, shouldn’t Smith’s work be required reading for those majoring in economics in college? As far as I can tell, it’s not. For example, I asked a cousin with a degree in economics from a good university if she’d read WoN as part of her college work. She sighed and said she had been assigned snippets. I found this stunning, but I suspect she’s not alone.

I’m increasingly sure that many free market economists and politicians have not read it. Is it too much to expect professional economists, especially ones with major control over vast sums of money and national financial policy, to have have read, understood, and taken to heart this seminal work?

For example, what about Alan Greenspan? Is it possible the august and powerful Alan Greenspan was felled by his own ignorance of what WoN actually says? That would explain why he “conceded the meltdown had revealed a flaw in a lifetime of economic thinking and left him in a ‘state of shocked disbelief,’” wouldn’t it?

He may have been in a state of “shocked disbelief.” I wasn’t. I can point to pertinent, underlined passages in my copy of Smith’s book.

I’ll post some pertinent bits from WoN in another post.

Off to work.



One Response to “The Wealth of Nations

  1. Jesse Says:

    Mmm. I sit with baited breath for what you have uncovered. Perhaps you can condense the ponzi of fiat currency? “Debt is Money” on youtube was a good cartoon compilation. To be sure it lacks the flair of Smith. I have found the modern businessman more atune to books of the length and timbre of “Move with the Cheese”.

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