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Wealth of Nations, The

Wealth of Nations, The. Adam Smith's treatise was published in 1776 when the old mercantilist system was fast breaking down. Few books have been more influential. In simple and direct language, Smith argued the case for laissez-faire with a minimum of government intervention, though he conceded the need for regulation to protect national security, such as fostering shipping. He did not believe that politicians had any competence in directing economic activity, nor did he like their motives—‘there is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people’. In a remarkable passage, he insisted that the endeavour of each individual to better himself advanced the common good, as though ‘led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention’. Not until Malthus and Ricardo were Smith's optimistic assumptions seriously challenged.

J. A. Cannon

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