P J O'Rourke, "P. J. O'Rourke on the Wealth of Nations (Books That Changed the World)[AUDIOBOOK]"
Publisher: Tantor Media | 2007 | ISBN 140010386X | PDF | 200 pages | 91 MB
Smith was a Rhetorician in the days where philosophy and logic were grouped under Rhetoric (since Aristotle) and the label did not have negative connotations as today. There was little in the way of economic theory in those days. Today Smith's reputation rests on his explanation of how rational self-interest in a free-market economy leads to economic well-being.
It may surprise those who would discount Smith as an advocate of ruthless individualism that his first major work concentrated on ethics and charity. In fact, while chair at the University of Glasgow, Smith's lecture subjects, in order of preference, were natural theology, ethics, jurisprudence, and economics, according to John Millar, Smith's pupil at the time. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith wrote: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."
At the same time, Smith had a benign view of self-interest. He denied the view that self-love "was a principle which could never be virtuous in any degree." Smith argued that life would be tough if our "affections, which, by the very nature of our being, ought frequently to influence our conduct, could upon no occasion appear virtuous, or deserve esteem and commendation from anybody."
To Smith sympathy and self-interest were not antithetical; they were complementary. "Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only," he explained in The Wealth of Nations.
Charity, while a virtuous act, could not alone provide the essentials for living. Self-interest was the mechanism that could remedy this shortcoming. Said Smith: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
Someone earning money by his own labor benefits himself. Unknowingly, he also benefits society, because to earn income on his labor in a competitive market, he must produce something others value. In Adam Smith's lasting imagery, "By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, 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 no part of his intention."
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