!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: An Expert Summarizes Adam Smith's Views

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Expert Summarizes Adam Smith's Views

As a follow-on to last month's Adam Smith Retrospective, I'd like to call attention to a ten-minute overview of Adam's Smith's work that Chris Berry, a professor of political theory at the University of Glasgow and an expert on Smith, has put together.

Statue of Adam Smith in Edinburgh

Professor Berry covers both The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the two books from which the Retrospective quotations were taken.

Of Adams' first book Prof. Berry says:
The Moral Sentiments is a leading example of a particular approach to moral philosophy — one that regards it not as sets of rationally or Divine ordained prescriptions but as the interaction of human feelings, emotions or sentiments in the real settings of human life. In many ways it is a book of social and moral psychology. What we can call economic behaviour is necessarily situated in a moral context. But more than that the key theme of the book is an opposition to the view that all morality or virtue is reducible to self-interest. Indeed his opening sentence declares that everyday human experience proves that false, he writes: "How selfish soever a man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derive nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it".
About the later book, Prof. Berry notes:
When Smith came to write the Wealth of Nations he made it clear that the ‘wealth’ lay in the well-being of the people. This covered not only their material prosperity but also their moral welfare. Accordingly he thought to be in poverty is to be in a miserable condition and commerce is to be praised for improving human life.

The great achievement of the Wealth of Nations was to discern the principles of order in the seeming chaos of commercial or market behaviour — it wasn’t random, it could be reduced to some simple principles. It was for this reason that Smith was described as the Newton of political economy. ...

He identifies basic principles such as the human propensity to ‘truck, barter and exchange’ that he argues underlies the division of labour but says that this depends on a market and that requires some institutional structures like those that uphold justice such as government and how that in turn mutually relies on principles of public finance.
It cannot be overemphasized that Adam Smith had a sophisticated and humane view of how people's economic interactions play out and of how those interactions should be regulated.


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