Adam Smith's 1776 Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - more often known simply as The Wealth of Nations - is one of the most important books in modern intellectual history.
Considered one of the fundamental works of classical economics, it is also a prime example of the enduring power of good reasoning, and the ability of reasoning to drive critical thinking forward. Adam Smith was attempting to answer two complex questions: where does a nation's wealth come from, and what can governments do to increase it most efficiently? At the time, perhaps the most widely accepted theory, mercantilism, argued that a nation's wealth was literally the amount of gold and silver it held in reserve. Smith, meanwhile, weighed the evidence and came to a different conclusion: a nation's wealth, he argued, lay in its ability to encourage economic activity, largely without government interference.
Underlying this radical redefinition was the revolutionary concept that powered Smith's reasoning and which continues to exert a vast influence on economic thought: the idea that markets are self-regulating. Pitting his arguments against those of his predecessors, Smith carefully and persuasively reasoned out a strong case for free markets that reshaped government economic policies in the 19th-century and continues to shape global prosperity today.
Dr John Collins is a member of the faculty at the London School of Economics, where he is currently Executive Director of the LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project.
Ways in to the text Who was John Collins? What does The Wealth of Nations say? Why does The Wealth of Nations matter? Section 1: Influences Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context Module 2: Academic Context Module 3: The Problem Module 4: The Author's Contribution Section 2: Ideas Module 5: Main Ideas Module 6: Secondary Ideas Module 7: Achievement Module 8: Place in the Author's Work Section 3: Impact Module 9: The First Responses Module 10: The Evolving Debate Module 11: Impact and Influence Today Module 12: Where Next? Glossary of Terms People Mentioned in the Text Works Cited