Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a Scottish-born philosopher and economist closely linked to the philosopher David Hume. Smith’s pioneering study in economics, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), studied political economy apart from the standpoint of political science, ethics and law. From this, some call him the father of modern economics.
The main thrust of The Wealth of Nations is that national wealth is best generated with minimal government interference – laissez-faire – in conditions of free trade. As an ideology, laissez-faire has deep roots not just in Europe but also in the United States and in (Confucian) China.
Smith believed that, with government non-interference, private industry and commercial entrepreneurs would be automatically guided by market forces; a so-called “invisible hand” would ultimately lead society toward the greatest common interest.
At one point Smith talks about a “Great Architect of the Universe” but scholars debate whether or not he actively believed in God or not.¹ His father was a Christian, belonging to the Church of Scotland.
Related » David Ricardo
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- “Filmed as part of a second year course in social anthropology at Cambridge University in November 2001.”