I finally finished Smith’s Wealth of Nations. I am not going to go much into his economics as I assume most of you are familiar with the laws of supply and demand. However this book is much more than just a text of basic economic theory.
The first problem I had was getting comfortable with the use of English as it existed in the 1770 in Great Britain, once past this many parts of the book were interesting from the stand point of an observant person who was using highly detailed examples of how the competition between the nations of the effected the economic system and how mercantilism was used to the benefit of certain elites of the various national societies and for the benefit of the whole of the national society, he examines many things including the effect of colonies on the home countries, including the reasons for graft in the British Empire in India.
One thing I did learn is that the labor theory of value didn’t originate with Marx, it the entire basis of Smith’s work.
As I mentioned in my previous posts that I thought this book may be being used by many as the Bible is, i.e. promoting parts they like and ignoring parts they don’t. So here are a few quotes you don’t normally hear.
” In civilized society, he (man) stands at all times in need of the co-operation and the assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons.” Pg. 15
“Servants, laborers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well, fed, clothed and lodged.” Pg. 90
“Our merchants and master manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” Pg. 113
“Honor makes a great part of the reward of all honorable professions.” Pg. 117
“The chance of gain is by everyman more or less over-valued and the chance of loss is by most men under-valued.” Pg. 124
“With the greater part of the rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eyes is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.”
“The sovereign, for example, with all the officers both of justice and war who serve under him, the whole army and navy, are unproductive laborers.” Pg. 361
“Both the productive (wealth producing) and unproductive laborers, and those who do not labor at all, are equally maintained by the annual produce of the land and the labor of the country.” Pg. 361
“The progress of our North American and West Indian colonies would have been much less rapid, had not the capital but what belonged to themselves been employed in exporting their surplus produce.”
[ Wonder what the New England merchants thought of this idea? Smith’s argument could be used by the British merchants to justify their control of colonial trade. –GRH]
“The government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatever.” Pg. 615
“Our merchants frequently complain of the high wages of British labor as the cause of manufactures being undersold in foreign markets, but they are silent about the high profits of stock. They complain about of the extravagant gain of other people, but say nothing, but say nothing of their own.” Pg. 648
” The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters.” Pg. 824
“The first reformers found the Greek text of the new testament, and even the Hebrew text of the old, more favorable to their opinions, than the vulgate translation, which, as might naturally be supposed had been generally accommodated to the support of the doctrines of the catholic church.” Pg. 822
“Times of violent religious controversy have generally been times of equally violent political faction.” Pg.850
“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition, . . . ” Pg. 855
The sections “Religious Instruction” pg. 846-875 and Education of Youth Pg. 819 – 846 are excellent and still very relevant today.