Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scottish philosopher and political economist wrote in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776);
"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 publick interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it.... 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."
Poverty was the acceptable norm for the majority of people in a society based on mercantilism, who had little choice in the destination of their life or their contribution towards society in the latter part of the 18th century. With local guilds dictating the production and distribution of such necessities as wool, textiles, and grains, market competition was non-existent. In his groundbreaking work The Wealth of Nations, published the same year as the American Revolution, Smith soundly examines industry, commerce, and the concept of and benefits of free enterprise. Another oft quoted passage 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."
Adam Smith was born on 5 June, 1723 in Kirkaldy, county Fife, located on the Firth of Forth in Scotland, the son of writer and lawyer Adam Smith, and Margaret Douglas. His father died soon after he was born, so he was raised solely by his widowed mother. He attended Glasgow and Oxford universities before accepting the position as professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow in 1752. He discusses the foundation of society's ethical conduct in Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759);
"That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages."
A popular lecturer, Smith also wrote many essays and articles on such diverse topics as literature, justice, health, and welfare. In 1764 he left Glasgow to accompany the Duke of Buccleuch on his travels through Europe as his tutor. Upon his return he started work on The Wealth of Nations which would resound for decades to come and affect changes for contemporary economic policy in the Western world. In 1778 he settled in Edinburgh, Scotland as Commissioner of Customs. Five years later he was a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He died on 17 July 1790 and lies buried in the Canongate Churchyard, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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