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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a professor of Moral Philosophy at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland. He is the father of modern economic theory.

Adam Smith

A portrait medallion of Adam Smith, moral philosopher and economist

Adam Smith

Adam Smith engraving based on the medallion portrait seen above.

Adam Smith and Charles Scamahorn

Adam Smith’s grave with the blogger Charles Scamahorn visiting.

Quotes of Adam Smith selected from the web. — WikiQuotes, The Adam Smith Institute, Goodreads

“What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience?”

“By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-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 advantages.”

“It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does, or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest…either to neglect it altogether, or…to perform it in [a] careless and slovenly a manner…”

“The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence. “

“Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily, leads him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to society… He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was not part of his intention”

“The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.”

“The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”

“Every man, as the Stoics used to say, is first and principally recommended to his own care; and every man is certainly, in every respect, fitter and abler to take care of himself than of any other person. Every man feels his own pleasures and his own pains more sensibly than those of other people. The former are the original sensations; the latter the reflected or sympathetic images of those sensations. The former may be said to be the substance; the latter the shadow.”

“The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.”

“Are you in earnest resolved never to barter your liberty for the lordly servitude of a court, but to live free, fearless, and independent? There seems to be one way to continue in that virtuous resolution; and perhaps but one. Never enter the place from whence so few have been able to return; never come within the circle of ambition; nor ever bring yourself into comparison with those masters of the earth who have already engrossed the attention of half mankind before you.”

“It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy…What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”

“By means of glasses, hotbeds, and hot-walls, very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine too can be made of them at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries. Would it be a reasonable law to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of claret and burgundy in Scotland?”

“Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.”

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.”

“It is the highest impertinence and presumption… in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense… They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.”

“The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations.”

“The proprietor of stock is necessarily a citizen of the world, and is not necessarily attached to any particular country. He would be apt to abandon the country in which he was exposed to a vexatious inquisition, in order to be assessed to a burdensome tax, and would remove his stock to some other country where he could either carry on his business, or enjoy his fortune more at his ease.”

“Adventure upon all the tickets in the lottery, and you lose for certain; and the greater the number of your tickets the nearer your approach to this certainty.”

“All money is a matter of belief.”

“No complaint, however, is more common than that of a scarcity of money.”

“How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, … all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden.”

“The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. – By nature a philosopher is not in genius and disposition half so different from a street porter, as a mastiff is from a greyhound.”

“The liberal reward of labor, therefore, as it is the effect of increasing wealth, so it is the cause of increasing population. To complain of it, is to lament over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity.”

“Corn is a necessary, silver is only a superfluity.”

“Good roads, canals, and navigable rivers, by diminishing the expense of carriage, put the remote parts of the country more nearly upon a level with with those of the neighborhood of the town. They are upon that the greatest of all improvements.”

“Among civilized and thriving nations, on the contrary, though a great number of people do no labor at all, many of whom consume the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times more labor than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labor of the society is so great, that all are often abundantly supplied, and a workman, 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.”

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.”

“Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.”

“Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.”

“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.”

“The theory that can absorb the greatest number of facts, and persist in doing so, generation after generation, through all changes of opinion and detail, is the one that must rule all observation.”

“What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience?”


COMMENTS:
The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776 — that’s 237 years ago — and it seems our government’s leaders have lost sight of his writings. The Internal Revenue Service targeting political organizations for tax review is an absolute and clear violation of the health of a nation. The US grew stronger than others because of the freedoms of every individual to solve the problems he faced personally with his local understanding. The government from afar has little understanding of specific situations and should leave those local things to people who understand them. The government does have a role in promoting trade, within the country, of creating better communications. In Smith’s day that meant better roads, canals, and port facilities, but today that means, in addition to those, the creation of better electronic communications and better information services. The creation of a huge organization spying on the public network, to which the public has no access, will eventually stifle creativity, manufacturing and trade.

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