The Many, Diverse ‘Main Points’ of Adam Smith’s the Wealth of Nations

14 06 2018

Mostly Economics

Prof Barry Weingast of Stanford Univ in this paper:

The purpose of this short paper is to demonstrate that in the modern era Adam Smith scholars make a surprising variety of claims about the “main point” of the Wealth of Nations. In these notes, I collect a range of statements asserting the main point and arrange them by categories. Most statements focus on economic topics (60%), though some entries clearly fall under politics (40%). Nearly half of the statements in the literature argue that Wealth of Nations’s main purpose was to provide a theory of economic development. Other categories include the idea that self-interested individuals can support gains from cooperation; ideas about justice, morals, and liberty; and finally, contributions to economic theory.

The diversity of points is striking, indicating not only the work’s richness, but the many different topics to which it made substantive contributions. An obvious interpretation of these results…

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