Adam Smith: Notes on Reading The Wealth of Nations

Every once in a while I like to re-read some of the classics, and for me the top of that list is Adam Smith’s An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes of The Wealth of Nations, generally abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations. These are my notes from a re-reading in 2014, and the things I find of interest in here. I think Adam Smith’s ideas are often caricatured in the popular press, but going to the source is always the best cure for that.

This is my personal perspective. I spent 20 years teaching this, first in graduate school at the University of Michigan, then as an Assistant Professor of Economics at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, MI. I think there can be no question that Smith accomplished something remarkable in this book, which not only founded the discipline of Economics, but also gave us political memes that persist to this day and guide policy. However, I also think that many of his “followers” have been somewhat selective in which parts they choose to emphasize, or which lessons they wish to derive. So as I said, let’s go to the source. My plan is to read each chapter and make note of anything that strikes me as significant.

This book is divided into 5 “books”, which are not really all that long.

  • Book I: Of the Causes of Improvement in the productive Powers of Labour
  • Book II: Of the Nature, Accumulation, and Employment of Stock
  • Book III: Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations
  • Book IV: Of Systems of political Economy
  • Book V: Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth
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