Most people who hear the name "Adam Smith" think of the "invisible hand" of the marketplace -- a phrase that appears once halfway through his 750+ page tome An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) -- and assume Smith was an economist. In fact, although Smith's subject in Wealth of Nations was political economy, he was a moral philosopher. This article provides a more nuanced understanding of Adam Smith's views on government, marketplaces, liberty, and the public good.
"It is certainly true that there are similarities between what Smith called ‘the system of natural liberty’, and more recent calls for the state to make way for the free market. But if we dig below the surface, what emerges most strikingly are the differences between Smith’s subtle, skeptical view of the role of markets in a free society, and more recent caricatures of him as a free-market fundamentalist avant-la-lettre. For while Smith might be publicly lauded by those who put their faith in private capitalist enterprise, and who decry the state as the chief threat to liberty and prosperity, the real Adam Smith painted a rather different picture."
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