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invisible hand

invisible hand An expression deriving from Adam Smith's economic treatise on The Wealth of Nations (1776). It refers to the idea that when individuals pursue their own self-interest for gain in business their actions are led by an unseen force (‘invisible hand’) to promote the general good of society. Smith argued that, with some exceptions such as monopolies, individual economic action supplies benefits to society when it is allowed to progress without hindrance from the state. This contention has often supplied ammunition to those who would promote laissez-faire capitalism and are opposed to state intervention in the economy and in civil society generally. See also ECONOMIC LIFE, SOCIOLOGY OF; EXCHANGE THEORY; JUSTICE, SOCIAL.

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