mercoledì 7 marzo 2018

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Bible King James Version (1611):

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James Kent (1763-1847):

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William Shakeapeare (1564-1616):


martedì 6 marzo 2018

Economisti inglesi online: 1. Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations. - § 3: of the division of labour..

B. Home. §2. ↔︎ §4.
Testo online.
The Wealth of Nations.
Prima edizione originale: 1776.

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Internet Archive: Wealth of Nations.

§ 3.

Of the division of labour.




Testo: B. I Ch i.
THE greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.

The effects of the division of labour, in the general business
of society, will be more easily understood by considering in
what manner it operates in some particular manufactures. It
is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very
trifling ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in
them than in others of more importance: but in those trifling
manufactures which are destined to supply the small wants of
but a small number of people, the whole number of workmen
must necessarily be small; and those employed in every different
branch of the work can often be collected into the same work
house, and placed at once under the view of the spectator. In
those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined
to supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every
different branch of the work employs so great a number of
workmen that it is impossible to collect them all into the same
workhouse. We can seldom see more, at one time, than those
employed in one single branch. Though in such manufactures,
therefore, the work may really be divided into a much greater
number of parts than in those of a more trifling nature, the
division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much
less observed.

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manu
facture; but one in which the division of labour has been very


The Division of Labour 5

often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman
not educated to this business (which the division of labour has
rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the
machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same
division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce,
perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and
certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this
business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar
trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the
greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out
the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it,
a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the
head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is
a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a
trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important
business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about
eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are
all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man
will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a
small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were em
ployed, and where some of them consequently performed two
or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor,
and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the neces
sary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves,
make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There
are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling
size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them
upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person,
therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins,
might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred
pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and
independently, and without any of them having been educated
to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them
have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is,
certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the
four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present
capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and
combination of their different operations.

In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division
of labour are similar to what they are in this very trifling one;
though, in many of them, the labour can neither be so much
subdivided, nor reduced to so great a simplicity of operation.
The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced,

6 The Wealth of Nations

occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the produc
tive powers of labour. The separation of different trades and
employments from one another seems to have taken place in
consequence of this advantage. This separation, too, is generally
carried furthest in those countries which enjoy the highest
degree of industry and improvement; what is the work of one
man in a rude state of society being generally that of several
in an improved one. In every improved society, the farmer is
generally nothing but a farmer; the manufacturer, nothing but
a manufacturer. The labour, too, which is necessary to produce
any one complete manufacture is almost always divided among
a great number of hands. How many different trades are em
ployed in each branch of the linen and woollen manufactures
from the growers of the flax and the wool, to the bleachers and
smoothers of the linen, or to the dyers and dressers of the cloth !
The nature of agriculture, indeed, does not admit of so many
subdivisions of labour, nor of so complete a separation of one
business from another, as manufactures. It is impossible to
separate so entirely the business of the grazier from that of the
corn-farmer as the trade of the carpenter is commonly separated
from that of the smith. The spinner is almost always a distinct
person from the weaver; but the ploughman, the harrower, the
sower of the seed, and the reaper of the corn, are often the
same. The occasions for those different sorts of labour return
ing with the different seasons of the year, it is impossible that
one man should be constantly employed in any one of them.
This impossibility of making so complete and entire a separa
tion of all the different branches of labour employed in agri
culture is perhaps the reason why the improvement of the
productive powers of labour in this art does not always keep
pace with their improvement in manufactures. The most
opulent nations, indeed, generally excel all their neighbours in
agriculture as well as in manufactures ; but they are commonly
more distinguished by their superiority in the latter than in the
former. Their lands are in general better cultivated, and having
more labour and expense bestowed upon them, produce more
in proportion to the extent and natural fertility of the ground.
But this superiority of produce is seldom much more than in
proportion to the superiority of labour and expense. In agri
culture, the labour of the rich country is not always much more
productive than that of the poor; or, at least, it is never so
much more productive as it commonly is in manufactures. The
corn of the rich country, therefore, will not always, in the same

The Division of Labour 7

degree of goodness, come cheaper to market than that of the
poor. The corn of Poland, in the same degree of goodness,
is as cheap as that of France, notwithstanding the superior
opulence and improvement of the latter country. The corn of
France is, in the corn provinces, fully as good, and in most
years nearly about the same price with the corn of- England,
though, in opulence and improvement, France is perhaps in
ferior to England. The corn-lands of England, however, are
better cultivated than those of France, and the corn-lands of
France are said to be much better cultivated than those of
Poland. But though the poor country, notwithstanding the
inferiority of its cultivation, can, in some measure, rival the
rich in the cheapness and goodness of its corn, it can pretend
to no such competition in its manufactures; at least if those
manufactures suit the soil, climate, and situation of the rich
country. The silks of France are better and cheaper than those
of England, because the silk manufacture, at least under the
present high duties upon the importation of raw silk, does not
so well suit the climate of England as that of France. But the
hardware and the coarse woollens of England are beyond all
comparison superior to those of France, and much cheaper too
in the same degree of goodness. In Poland there are said to
be scarce any manufactures of any kind, a few of those coarser
household manufactures excepted, without which no country
can well subsist.

This great increase of the quantity of work which, in conse
quence of the division of labour, the same number of people are
capable of performing, is owing to three different circumstances;
first, to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman;
secondly, to the saving of the time which is commonly lost in
passing from one species of work to another; and lastly, to the
invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and
abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many.

First, the improvement of the dexterity of the workman
necessarily increases the quantity of the work he can perform;
and the division of labour, by reducing every man s business to
some one simple operation, and by making this operation the
sole employment of his life, necessarily increases very much the
dexterity of the workman. A common smith, who, though
accustomed to handle the hammer, has never been used to make
nails, if upon some particular occasion he is obliged to attempt
it, will scarce, I am assured, be able to make above two or three
hundred nails in a day, and those too very bad ones. A smith


Economisti inglesi online: 1. Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations. - § 2: Contents.

B. Home. §2. ↔︎ §4.
Testo online.
The Wealth of Nations.
Prima edizione originale: 1776.

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Internet Archive: Wealth of Nations.

§ 2.





I. Of the Division of Labour.

II. Of the Principle which gives occasion to the Division of Labour.

III. That the Division of Labour is limited by the Extent of the Market.

IV. Of the Origin and Use of Money.

V. Of the Real and Nominal Price of Commodities, or their Price in Labour, and their Price in Money. 

VI. Of the Component Parts of the Price of Commodities.

VII. Of the Natural and Market Price of Commodities.

VIII. Of the Wages of Labour.

IX. Of the Profits of Stock.

X. Of Wages and Profit in the different Employments of Labour and Stock.

XI. Of the Rent of Land.



I. Of the Division of Stock.

II. Of Money considered as a particular Branch of the general Stock of the Society or of the Expense of maintaining the National Capital.

III. Of the Accumulation of Capital, or of Productive and Unproductive Labour.

IV. Of Stock lent at Interest.

V. Of the different Employment of Capitals.



I. Of the Natural Progress of Opulence.

II. Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the ancient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire.

III. Of the Rise and Progress of Cities and Towns after the Fall of the Roman Empire.

IV. How the Commerce of the Towns contributed to the Improvement of the Country.



I. Of the Principle of the Commercial, or Mercantile System.

II. Of Restraints upon the Importation from Foreign Countries of such Goods as can be produced at Home.

III. Of the extraordinary Restraints upon the Importation of Goods of almost all kinds from those Countries with which the Balance is supposed to be disadvantageous.

IV. Of Drawbacks.

V. Of Bounties.

VI. Of Treaties of Commerce.

VII. Of Colonies.

VIII. Conclusion of the Mercantile System.

IX. Of the Agricultural Systems, or of those Systems of Political Economy which represent the Produce of Land as either the sole or the principal Source of the Revenue and Wealth of every Country.


I. Of the Expenses of the Sovereign or Commonwealth.

II. Of the Sources of the General or Public Revenue of the Society.

III. Of Public Debts.

Economisti inglesi online: 1. Adam Smith: Introduzioni alle diverse edizioni della “Ricchezza delle Nazioni”: i. Edwin E. A. Seligman.

B. Home. § ↔︎ §i.
Testo online.
The Wealth of Nations.
Prima edizione originale: 1776.

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latini greci
Internet Archive: Gaetano Mosca.

§ i.

Introduction of Edwin E. A. Seligman.

BUCKLE said of The Wealth of Nations that it is “the most valuable contribution ever made by a single individual to determine the true principles of government.” M. Culloch thought The Wealth of Nations had “exercised a power and beneficent influence on the public opinion and legislation of the civilised world, which has never been attained by any other work.” Lord Mahon stated that “The Wealth of Nations not only founded, but also almost completed political economy”; and Jean Baptiste Say said, “Read Adam Smith as he deserves to be read and you will perceive that before him no political economy existed.” On the other hand, John Ruskin is responsible for the allusion to Adam Smith as “the half-bred and half-witted Scotchman who taught the deliberate blasphemy: Thou shalt hate the Lord, thy God, damn his laws and covet his neighbour s goods.”

That these various statements involve gross exaggerations needs scarcely to be pointed out. But it remains true none the less that The Wealth of Nations has become one of the classics of literature in general, as well as of the literature of economics in particular. Before proceeding to consider the reasons for this it may be wise to say a word about the author himself.

Adam Smith was born in 1 723 in the small town of Kirkcaldy,
Scotland, as the son of a minor government official. At the
age of three he was stolen by gypsies, but was fortunately
before long restored to his parents. At the age of fourteen
he was sent to college at Glasgow, and when seventeen entered
Balliol College, Oxford, as an exhibitioner. He remained at
the university six years, devoting himself to philosophy and
literature. After his graduation he dwelt for a period at home
in the prosecution of his studies, and in 1748 was appointed to
a lectureship on literature at Edinburgh, a position which
he secured through the influence of his friend, Lord Kames.
In 1751 he was made Professor of Literature at Glasgow, and
from 1752 on, he occupied the chair of Moral Philosophy.

It was during the ensuing decade that he worked out his


vi The Wealth of Nations

general philosophic scheme, and published his famous work on
the Theory of Moral Sentiments. Moral philosophy in those
days comprised a wide range of subjects, and as taught by
Adam Smith included four parts Natural Theology, Ethics,
Justice or Jurisprudence, and Political Economy. The
lectures on the last two subjects which were delivered by him
in the University of Glasgow in 1763 have fortunately been
preserved in a set of student s notes, which were republished
in 1896 under the title, Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue, and
Arms. At the close of 1763, Adam Smith accepted an invita
tion from the young Duke of Buccleuch to act as his tutor and
companion on a trip to the continent. They spent a year and
a half in the south of France and Toulouse, then a short time
at Geneva, and finally another year at Paris. It was at
Toulouse that Adam Smith, in order, as he tells us, to occupy
his leisure, began the recasting of his classroom lectures on
Political Economy, and commenced to write a comprehensive
work on the subject. While in Paris he was thrown into
intimate contact with that small group of prominent thinkers
and writers known as the Economistes or the Physiocrats, who
were agitating public opinion on economic topics, especially
the court physician, Quesnay, the elder Mirabeau, and the
famous Turgot. He also formed intimate friendships with
some of the most distinguished philosophers and literary men
of the day. Returning to Scotland in 1767 he settled down
quietly at Kirkcaldy, devoting himself to the completion of
his great book. In 1773 he found it necessary, in order to
carry on some more detailed investigations, to repair to London.
He remained there until the spring of 1776, when The Wealth
of Nations finally appeared. Two years later he accepted the
position of Commissioner of Customs in Scotland, and he
thereupon lived an uneventful existence, devoted to his official
duties, and issuing, from time to time, new editions of his
great work, until he died in 1 790.

In order to understand the great popularity of The Wealth
of Nations, it is necessary to consider, first, the inherent
merits of the work, and secondly, its relation to the political
and economic struggles of the day.

So far as the external characteristics of the work are con
cerned, it must be noted that The Wealth of Nations is both
remarkably lucid and exceptionally interesting. It was, of
course, not the first book on political economy, but it is only
necessary to compare it with its chief predecessor, Steuart s

Introduction vii

Political Economy, published in 1767, to be struck by the
immense difference. Steuart s book was a meritorious com
pilation, but without form, without charm, and without
interest. It attracted few readers, and exerted no perceptible
influence. The Wealth of Nations, on the other hand, was
admirably expressed, and written in a strain that is at once
philosophic and popular. Far more important, however, than
these external characteristics, was the fact that Adam Smith
had something new to say. He delved beneath the surface
of things, and attempted to give a comprehensive analysis of
the fundamental institutions of industrial society. He dis
played a subtle grasp of principles, and was able to separate
the significant from the unimportant. But more than that, he
aroused public attention by the challenge which he directed
against the economic policy of the day. His conclusions were
not in harmony with those of the politician, and he set men
thinking. Other writers may have had in part the same ideas,
but no one had been able hitherto to weave these separate
thoughts into a connected whole, or to present the conclusions
in so masterly and authoritative a manner. On the other hand,
the book appeared in the nick of time, at a period, namely,
when vast changes were taking place in both the industrial
and the commercial conditions in England, and when it might
be expected, therefore, that the ideas contained in The Wealth
of Nations would gradually find a respectful hearing. To
comprehend this situation, however, we must go a little further

Vine two fundamental ideas of The Wealth of Nations are
those of self-interest and natural liberty. It was by utilising
and applying these doctrines to his analysis of economic
institutions that Adam Smith achieved his great success. "It
is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the
baker," he tells us, " that we expect our dinner, but from
their regard of 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 advantage."

It is this idea which permeates the whole of Smith s work.
It must indeed not be imagined that Adam Smith conceived
of men as actuated exclusively by this motive. On the
contrary, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments he posits the
doctrine of sympathy as the real bond between human beings
in their ethical relations. But what he was concerned with in
The Wealth of Nations was an analysis of the economic situation

viii The Wealth of Nations

and a consideration of the motives and conditions that make
for wealth, rather than for the wider conception of welfare
in general. His success in dealing with the economic analysis
consists in the fact that he carried through consistently the
influence of this economic motive on life in general. He did
not delude himself with the belief that this was the whole of
life, and he was far from deserving the jibes of Ruskin, to
which allusion has been made in the opening paragraph. He
took economic life as he found it, and he explained more clearly
and more consistently than any of his predecessors the influence
of the factor of self-interest in the business world.

His second great doctrine was that of natural liberty. The
Europe of his day had long been dominated by the so-called
mercantile system a system which in its origin responded
to the demands of the new national life, and which laid great
stress on the power of government to affect economic conditions.
Useful and justifiable, however, as the system had in many
respects been, it had become, during the eighteenth century,
outworn and antiquated, and the emphasis had been gradually
put upon restrictive rather than constructive measures, so
that it culminated in a most elaborate policy of national ex-
clusiveness. Inquisitorial customs houses and tariff wars were
multiplied. Industry was fairly throttled by minute regula
tions of details, and in some countries volumes were filled with
complicated, unintelligible, and contradictory regulations of
manufactures. The confusion was heightened by the excesses
of the monopolistic companies, and especially on the continent
by the degeneration of the craft guilds, which now, far from
being welcome accessories to the municipal administration,
had become oppressive, exclusive bodies, with a hereditary
caste-like organisation.

What wonder, then, that a sect of men should arise who
sought refuge from this intolerable pandemonium of perpetual
interference in the soothing doctrine of absolute liberty ? The
times were ripe for a reaction a reaction in every sphere of
life, political, religious, economic. In politics this was ushered
in by Rousseau, in philosophy by Voltaire and the encyclo
pedists, in economics by the advent of the Physiocrats. The
great significance of the Physiocrats, as their name denotes,
is the belief in the natural order of liberty; their tenets of
the "net produce" (produit net) and the single tax (impot
unique) being subordinate doctrines, which grew out of their
endeavour to rehabilitate agriculture, and to bring the dis-

Introduction ix

solute classes back to a sense of primitive simplicity. Just
as the mercantilists had laid stress on the national element,
applying the principles of domestic economy to political life,
so, on the other hand, the Physiocrats represented the universal,
the cosmopolitan, the international view. In that confused
progeny of stoic philosophy and Roman law, as nurtured by the
continental jurists and philosophers, and known as the law
of nature, Rousseau found the life-blood of his contrat social,
the support of his revolutionary theories. And the same
misconception led Quesnay to formulate the laws of industrial
society as eternal and immutable truths, which it was the
function of man to expound, but which it would be utterly
impossible or, if possible, utterly ruinous to change or
tamper with. Laissez faire, laissez passer is the key which
unlocks all economic puzzles. The " be quiet " system, as
Bentham calls it, is the sole panacea for human ills, the only
hope of social regeneration. Give free play to the natural laws
of liberty and equality, and prosperity will soon shine in all
its refulgence on the expanse of national life.

It is well known that Adam Smith owed much to the Physio
crats, and that he was for a time a disciple of Quesnay. But
these particular ideas of liberty were not derived from his
French friends. They were in the air in England, as well as
on the continent, and were shared by several of his English
predecessors. Although the abuses were in some respects not
so great in England as on the continent, England, like France,
was in the toils of the Colonial system, and the dispute between
the mother country and the American colonies was fast coming
to a head. It is more than a mere coincidence that The Wealth
of Nations should have appeared in the same year that the
Declaration of Independence was signed. On all sides the con
ditions of English life also were fast outgrowing the swaddling
clothes of official omniscience and governmental sciolism.
In the town where Smith laboured there were numerous
protests by individuals and by societies against the policy of
the government. It is not surprising, then, that, after a careful
resume of the shortcomings of the prevalent commercial
policy, Adam Smith should have concluded with this celebrated
passage: " All systems, either of preference or restraint, there
fore, being thus completely taken away, the obvious and simple
system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord.
Every man, as soon as he does not violate the laws of justice,
is left perfectly free to pursue his own interests in his own

x The Wealth of Nations

way, and to bring both his industry and his capital into com
petition with those of any other man or order of men."

It is true, indeed, that Adam Smith was too broad-minded
to maintain this doctrine without any qualifications, for he
possessed a far truer historical spirit than many of his suc
cessors. He upholds, for instance, the Navigation Act of
Cromwell ; he defends the necessity of export duties in certain
cases; he even maintains that the interests of individuals
" in any particular branch of trade or manufacture are always
in some respects different from, and even opposite to, the
interests of the public." Yet the general teaching of Adam
Smith was to emphasise the need of greater liberty, and it was
this teaching that made his book famous.

It may be asked, indeed: Was Adam Smith original ? The
answer is not a difficult one. It is, for instance, absurd to
state that Adam Smith was the first political economist.
People have speculated on economic questions for centuries,
and even in classic antiquity we find economic theories. Adam
Smith owed much both to his English and to his French pre
decessors. To mention only a few points; his arguments
against the Bullionists may be found in Mun; his conception
of labour as a measure of value in Petty ; his theory of self-
interest in Mandeville, in Hume, and in Tucker; his doctrine
of the advantages of a low rate of interest in Child and Massie;
his theory of natural law in Locke and Hutcheson; his views
on the currency in Newton ; his doctrines of credit in Davenant.
Even his famous four rules of taxation, for which he is justly
admired, and which, according to Mr. Francis Hirst, in his book
on Adam Smith, were " new and startling," are in reality to
be found almost word for word in some of his French prede
cessors. A German scholar has amused himself by printing
twenty pages oi the deadly parallel, setting the passages from
The Wealth of Nations opposite those of the earlier eighteenth-
century writers. Above all, Adam Smith owes much to the
Physiocrats. We now know exactly the extent of his obliga
tions, for we are able to compare the economic views contained
in his lecture course of 1763 with those of The Wealth of
Nations in 1776. Adam Smith learned from the Physiocrats
several important things. In the first place, he borrowed
from them the emphasis laid upon consumption, or the interests
of the consumers, whereas the earlier writers had emphasised
primarily the interests of the producers. Secondly, the entire
theory of distribution, with a division of the produce into

Introduction xi

rent, wages, and interest, is based upon the Physiocratic
analysis. Thirdly, the theory of the nature and movement
of stock or capital is taken from the French writers. And
finally, while Adam Smith did not accept the Physiocratic
doctrine of the sole productivity of land, he was induced
by them to make his not entirely fortunate distinction between
productive and unproductive labour in general.

Great as were Adam Smith s obligations to his predecessors,
both English and French, his originality is none the less to
be maintained. He was far more than a slavish follower of
his predecessors. He took, indeed, many thoughts which he
found in other writers, but he individualised their passing
remarks ; he placed them in such a connection that they became
invested with a new significance; he clothed them in such a
garb that they must henceforth be regarded as his own progeny.
And this, after all, was a work of genius, for it is given to no
man to be completely original. Every one is the product of
the times, of the Zeitgeist and the ideals of the period are
unconsciously reflected in the individual. So it was with the
opinions of Adam Smith. What in the writings of his pre
decessors was either scattered or inconsequential became in
his own great work a well-knit whole of remarkable effective

The real interpretation of Adam Smith has yet to be written.
Reduced to the simplest terms, however, it may be said that
Adam Smith was the first great theorist of that stage of
capitalist enterprise which we call the domestic system. The
economists of earlier times were unable to give an analysis of
economic life which is at all satisfactory to us, because the
economic institutions then were different. Under the guild
system of industry there was no differentiation comparable
to that of the later period between capital and labour, and
the forms of profit had not yet disclosed themselves. The
eighteenth century was the period when capital was working
itself into business enterprise in such a way as to make its
influence felt on all sides, and the analysis of the older writers
based upon a system of economic institutions that had passed
away was no longer adequate. The Physiocrats in France and
Adam Smith in England were the first to attempt an analysis
of the new order, and this it is which gives them their import
ance. The Physiocrats, however, were blinded by the undue
significance which they attached to agricultural conditions,
whereas England, with its growing industrial and commercial

xii The Wealth of Nations

development, naturally preserved Adam Smith from these
errors. Smith s thoughts were formed on the very threshold
of the industrial revolution. In 1758 James Brindley built
the first canal between Liverpool and Manchester. In 1769
the barber Arkwright rediscovered Wyatt s method of roller-
spinning. In 1770 Hargreaves perfected the spinning jenny.
In 1776 Crompton patented his mule founded on the water
frame, and in 1765 Watt discovered the use of steam as a
motive power. England was fast losing her agricultural
characteristics and getting to be an industrial country. From
being an exporter of wheat she was becoming an importer
of wheat. Capitalist enterprise was in its first stage, and Adam
Smith was its earliest interpreter.

In the second place, Adam Smith had his eyes opened to the
shortcomings of the restrictive colonial policy by the discontent
in America. There had always been critics of the commercial
policy of England in its relations with the continental countries,
but these critics were largely confined to the Tory side. Adam
Smith s significance in the history of political thought lies in
the fact, as Ashley has shown us, that he brought these more
liberal ideas over from the camp of the Tories to that of the
Whigs. The experiences that followed the independence of
America induced the Whig leaders before long to accept
Smith s analysis, and gradually to embody its conclusions into
legislation. Adam Smith, like all great men, succeeded in
formulating what was soon to become the public opinion.
Not only was he the first to analyse the new system of industry
known as the domestic system, but he was also the first effec
tively to call attention to the changed commercial conditions
which rendered a continuance of the old colonial policy both
unnecessary and inadvisable. It was ultimately because Adam
Smith foresaw a little more clearly than his contemporaries
that he soon was to exercise so tremendous an influence.

This approach to an interpretation of Adam Smith also
enables us to understand in what respects The Wealth of
Nations responds to present-day needs. In a certain sense
indeed The Wealth of Nations is imperishable. Adam Smith
emphasised the ideas of liberty for the individual and of
cosmopolitanism in the relations among states. Those ideas
always retain their magic sway over the human mind. But
in some respects economic conditions have again changed
from those that existed when he wrote. What was necessary
in his day was primarily a work of destruction. Adam Smith,

Introduction xiii

like the Physiocrats, was indefatigable in his opposition to the
abuses of the powerful, to the privileges of the few. In the
place of restriction, he demanded freedom. In the place of
nationalism, he demanded cosmopolitanism. In the place
of paternal government, he demanded individualism. Before
building up the new, it is necessary to pull down the old.
The experience of the last half century has shown us, however,
that a mere destructive policy does not suffice, and that it is
necessary to frame a newer, conception of liberty with a more
constructive note in it. Again, Adam Smith s doctrine of
natural law in economics created, especially in the hands of
his followers, a more or less rigid and absolute economic
system. Recent investigation has called attention to the
changing conditions of time and place, and has emphasised the
principles of relativity rather than of absolutism. As a conse
quence, we no longer apply in all their rigour the extreme conclu
sions of The Wealth of Nations. Furthermore, the modern world
has seen a partial recrudescence of the spirit of nationalism,
and many thinkers to-day hold to the opinion that the much-
desired cosmopolitanism of the future can best be attained
through the medium of a well-directed and moderate economic
national life. Above all, the industrial world of to-day is in
many respects different from that of Adam Smith. Adam
Smith wrote on the eve of the industrial revolution, but he
did not see its accomplishment, which has produced in modern
times the factory system with the domination of the machine.
Adam Smith is the theorist of the domestic system; he does
not give us an analysis of the factory system. Hence we must
not seek in his pages for a real solution of some of the great
problems which are vexing the modern industrial world. Far
from completing political economy, he barely touched upon
what have become some of our most important difficulties.

When all is said and done, however, The Wealth of Nations
will for a long time retain the unique position which it has
secured in economic literature. It is indeed a landmark in
the history of human thought and of government. It came
at a time when there was urgent need of the message which
the author had to proclaim. It contributed not a little to
strengthen the hand of reformers and strugglers for freedom
the world over. It called attention, in an imperishable way,
to what must always remain some of the fundamental factors
in economic adjustment, and it was so free from partisan bias,
and so full of imperturbable good-humour, that it won the

xiv Select Bibliography

respect an3 the admiration even of those who differed with
its conclusions. Although Adam Smith is neither the founder
nor the completer of political economy, The Wealth of Nations
will long retain its position of proud pre-eminence in the
history of human thought in general and of economic thought
in particular.




Articles upon Johnson s Dictionary, and the general state of literature of
Europe (Edinburgh Review], 1755; reprint, 1818; The Theory of Moral
Sentiments, 1759; and edition, 1761, with addition of Dissertation on the
Origin of Languages; 6th edition, with further additions and corrections,
1790, and later editions; with biographical and critical memoir by Dugald
Stewart (Bohn s Standard Library), 1846; An Inquiry into the Nature and
Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776, 1778; 3rd edition, with additions
and corrections (these published also separately), 1784; 4th edition, 1786;
5th edition, 1789, with additions, 1793; 6th edition, 1791; edited by W.
Playfair with life (nth edition), 1805; by D. Buchanan, 1814; by J. R.
M Cullpch, with life, 1823, 1850, and later editions; by E. G. Wakefield,
with life by D. Stewart, etc., 1835-9; by Thorold Rogers, 1869; by
J. S. Nicholson, 1884, 1901; reprint from 6th edition (Bohri s Standard
Library), 1887; Lubbock s Hundred Books, vol. 31, 1892; World s Classics,
1901; edited by E. Carman, 1904; new and condensed edition, G. H.
Macpherson and J. K. Kelly, 1903; Essays on Philosophical Subjects,
edited by J. Black and J. Huttort (with Dugald Stewart s Life) (including
Essay on Imitative Arts, on Affinity between Music, Dancing, and Poetry,
and on Affinity between certain Enghsh and Italian Verses, etc.), 1795;
Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue, and Arms . . . reported by a student
in 1793, edited by Edwin Cannan, 1896.

Smith was part editor of the Edinburgh Review, 1755, etc., and of the
Edinburgh Magazine and Review, 1773, etc.

WORKS: 5 vols., 1812 (with Life by D. Stewart).

LIFE: Dugald Stewart (read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh,
1793), prefixed to several editions of works, and published with other
Memoirs, 1811; W. Playfair, prefixed to edition of Wealth of Nations, 1806;
J. R. M Culloch (Wealth of Nations], 1828; Thorold Rogers (Wealth oj
Nations), 1869; J. A. Farrer, 1881; R. B. Haldane (Great Writers Series),
1887; John Rae, 1895 ; H. C. Macpherson (Famous Scots Series), 1899; F. W.
Hirst (English Men of Letters), 1904; W. Cunningham, Richard Cobden and
Adam Smith, 1904; W. R. Scott s British Academy Lecture, Adam Smith,
1923, and his later works, Adam Smith as Student and Professor, 1937;
Studies Relating to Adam Smith During the Last Fifty Years, 1941; P. D.
Leake, Capital: Adam Smith: Carl Marx, 1933; E. Ginzberg, The House of
Adam Smith, 1934; C. F. Arrowood, Theory of Education in the Political
Philosophy of Adam Smith, 1945; Sir A Gray, Adam Smith, 1948. 

Economisti inglesi online: Homepage.

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Economisti inglesi online: 1. Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations. - § 1: Introduction and plan of the work.

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Testo online.
The Wealth of Nations.
Prima edizione originale: 1776.

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Internet Archive: Wealth of Nations.

§ 1.

Introduction and plan of the work.

Testo: Introduction.
THE annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.

According therefore as this produce, or what is purchased with it, bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are to consume it, the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the necessaries and conveniences for which it has occasion.

But this proportion must in every nation be regulated by two different circumstances; first, by the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which its labour is generally applied; and, secondly, by the proportion between the number of those who are employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed. Whatever be the soil, climate, or extent of territory of any particular nation, the abundance or scantiness of its annual supply must, in that particular situation, depend upon those two circumstances.

The abundance or scantiness of this supply, too, seems to depend more upon the former of those two circumstances than upon the latter. Among the savage nations of hunters and fishers, every individual who is able to work, is more or less employed in useful labour, and endeavours to provide, as well as he can, the necessaries and conveniences of life, for himself, or such of his family or tribe as are either too old, or too young, or too infirm to go a hunting and fishing. Such nations, however, are so miserably poor that, from mere want, they are frequently reduced, or, at least, think themselves reduced, to the necessity sometimes of directly destroying, and sometimes of abandoning their infants, their old people, and those afflicted with lingering diseases, to perish with hunger, or to be devoured by wild beasts. Among civilised and thriving nations, on the contrary, though a great number of people do not labour at all, many of whom consume the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times more labour than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is so great that all are often abundantly supplied, and a work man, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire.

The causes of this improvement, in the productive powers of labour, and the order, according to which its produce is naturally distributed among the different ranks and conditions of men in the society, make the subject of the First Book of this Inquiry.

Whatever be the actual state of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which labour is applied in any nation, the abundance or scantiness of its annual supply must depend, during the continuance of that state, upon the proportion between the number of those who are annually employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed. The number of useful and productive labourers, it will hereafter appear, is everywhere in proportion to the quantity of capital stock which is employed in setting them to work, and to the particular way in which it is so employed. The Second Book, therefore, treats of the nature of capital stock, of the manner in which it is gradually accumulated, and of the different quantities of labour which it puts into motion, according to the different ways in which it is employed.

Nations tolerably well advanced as to skill, dexterity, and judgment, in the application of labour, have followed very different plans in the general conduct or direction of it; and those plans have not all been equally favourable to the great ness of its produce. The policy of some nations has given extraordinary encouragement to the industry of the country; that of others to the industry of towns. Scarce any nation has dealt equally and impartially with every sort of industry. Since the downfall of the Roman empire, the policy of Europe has been more favourable to arts, manufactures, and commerce, the industry of towns, than to agriculture, the industry of the country. The circumstances which seem to have introduced and established this policy are explained in the Third Book.

Though those different plans were, perhaps, first introduced by the private interests and prejudices of particular orders of men, without any regard to, or foresight of, their consequences upon the general welfare of the society; yet they have given occasion to very different theories of political economy; of
which some magnify the importance of that industry which is carried on in towns, others of that which is carried on in the country. Those theories have had a considerable influence, not only upon the opinions of men of learning, but upon the public conduct of princes and sovereign states. I have endeavoured, in the Fourth Book, to explain, as fully and distinctly as I can, those different theories, and the principal effects which they have produced in different ages and nations.

To explain in what has consisted the revenue of the great body of the people, or what has been the nature of those funds which, in different ages and nations, have supplied their annual consumption, is the object of these Four first Books. The Fifth and last Book treats of the revenue of the sovereign, or
commonwealth. In this book I have endeavoured to show, first, what are the necessary expenses of the sovereign, or commonwealth; which of those expenses ought to be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole society; and which of them by that of some particular part only, or of some particular members of it: secondly, what are the different methods in which the whole society may be made to contribute towards defraying the expenses incumbent on the whole society, and what are the principal advantages and inconveniences of each of those methods: and, thirdly and lastly, what are the reasons and causes which have induced almost all modern governments to mortgage some part of this revenue, or to contract debts, and what have been the effects of those debts upon the real wealth, the annual produce of the land and labour of the society.