Adam Smith

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Adam Smith, "father of capitalism" and author of The Wealth Of Nations, was a liberal, not a libertarian: see his The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He supported an enormous range of government functions that libertarians generally do not.

Here is a list from Jacob Viner:

  • The Navigation Acts, blessed by Smith under the assertion that 'defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence'; (WN464)
  • Sterling marks on plate and stamps upon linen and woollen cloth (WN138-9)
  • Enforcement of contracts by a system of justice; (WN720)
  • Wages to be paid in money, not goods;
  • Regulations of paper money in banking; (WN437)
  • Obligations to build party walls to prevent the spread of fire; (WN324)
  • Premiums and other encouragements to advance the linen and woollen industries'; (TMS185)
  • 'Police', or preservation of the 'cleanliness of roads, streets, and to prevent the bad effects of corruption and putrifying substances';
  • ensuring the 'cheapness or plenty [of provisions]'; (LJ6; 331)
  • patrols by town guards, fire fighters and of other hazardous accidents; (LJ331-2)
  • Erecting and maintaining certain public works and public institutions intended to facilitate commerce (roads, bridges, canals and harbours); (WN723)
  • Coinage and the Mint; (WN478; 1724)
  • Post office; (WN724)
  • Regulation of institutions, such as company structures (joint stock companies; co-partneries, regulated companies); (WN731-58)
  • Temporary monopolies, including copyright, patents, of fixed duration; (WN754)
  • Education of youth ('village schools', curriculum design); (WN758-89)
  • Education of people of all ages (tythes or land tax) (WN788);
  • Encouragement of 'the frequency and gaiety of publick diversions'; (WN796)
  • The prevention of 'leprosy or any other loathsome and offensive disease' from spreading among the population; (WN787-88)
  • Encouragement of martial exercises; (WN786)
  • Registration of mortgages for land, houses, and boats over two tons; (WN861, 863)
  • Government restrictions on interest for borrowing (usury laws) to overcome investor 'stupidity'; (WN356-7)
  • Laws against banks issuing low-denomination promissory notes; (WN324)
  • Natural liberty may be breached if individuals 'endanger the security of the whole society'; (WN324)
  • Limiting 'free exportation of corn' only 'in cases of the most urgent necessity' ('dearth' turning into 'famine'); (WN539)
  • Moderate export taxes on wool exports for government revenue; (WN 879)

Some more include:

  • Progressive taxation.


Adam Smith Hates Bitcoin [More...]
"[...] people think it’s smart, nay cutting-edge, to create a sort of virtual currency whose creation requires wasting real resources in a way Adam Smith considered foolish and outmoded in 1776."
Adam Smith on how to make the working class happier and more productive: pay them more [More...]
That famous socialist Adam Smith says: "If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate, than to animate the application of many of their workmen."
Adam Smith on the Benefits of Public Education [More...]
All the way back in 1776, long before public education was widespread, Adam Smith made the case in The Wealth of Nations for the government to provide public education for everyone, partly on the grounds that it would benefit the economy to have more educated workers, but also partly on the grounds that in a political context, educated people are "less liable ... to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition" and "less apt to be misled" in a political context.
Adam Smith's views in 1776 on the progressive burden of taxation [More...]
Adam Smith’s ideas about the justification for progressive rather than merely proportionate taxation.
Class War and the Lessons of History [More...]
David Brin points out that class war has always been occurring according to Adam Smith, and that the founders of the US were levelers, creating institutions that broke up concentrations of wealth. Progressive leveling can work again.
Debt and the Decay of the Myth of Liberal Individualism [More...]
We are not, in any way, “men who owe no obligation to one another”. Our entire social system is founded on obligation and interconnectedness. This was likely true even in Smith’s time, but his genius was to have hidden it from view and in doing so to construct the founding myth of liberal individualism as it exists in modern times.
Liberals, you must reclaim Adam Smith [More...]
David Brin denounces modern libertarians and their selective citation of Adam Smith. Brin calls for progressive reforms to bring capitalism back to Smithian competition.
Shrugging off Atlas [More...]
Brad DeLong identifies Nicholas Eberstadt's big lie on the second page of "A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic". A scary "9.5 percent per annum for fifty straight years" is actually 1.2 percent.
Smith's word [More...]
Smithian soundbites misrepresent the larger picture he portrayed in his major works. "[...] evidence suggests that Smith had a more complex view of human action than most people give him credit for."
The Wealth of Nations (book, online)


We are not, in any way, “men who owe no obligation to one another”. Our entire social system is founded on obligation and interconnectedness. This was likely true even in Smith’s time, but his genius was to have hidden it from view and in doing so to construct the founding myth of liberal individualism as it exists in modern times.
Philip Pilkington, "Debt and the Decay of the Myth of Liberal Individualism"
It really looks from the anthropologists that Adam Smith was wrong--that we are not animals that like to "truck, barter, and exchange" with strangers but rather gift-exchange pack animals--that we manufacture social solidarity by gift networks, and those who give the most valuable gifts acquire status hereby.
Brad DeLong, "Economic Anthropology: David Graeber Meets the Noise Machine..."
The basic competitive-markets model dating back to Adam Smith has been modified over time by the inclusion, in rough historical order, of monopoly, externalities, scale economies, incomplete and asymmetric information, irrational behavior, and many other real world features.
Dani Rodrik, "Rescuing Economics from Neoliberalism"
And deserts—the fact that some people deserve what they have and others do not? That idea never made any sense to Adam Smith, for he saw that the overwhelming bulk of our wealth is our joint product through our collective division of labor, rather than the individual creation of some Randite John Galt, who if truly left to stand alone on his own two feet without the social division of labor would soon have his bones bleaching in some Colorado canyon.
Brad DeLong, "Shrugging off Atlas"
The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations", last sentences in conclusion of Book 1.
The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors. Wherever the law allows it, and the nature of the work can afford it, therefore, he will generally prefer the service of slaves to that of freemen.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations" III.2.10