Mr. Smith Goes From Washington

Adam Smith, whose book Wealth of Nations may justly be viewed as foundational to the society of plenty which we Americans enjoy, would not find himself welcome in Washington, DC these days:

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what matter they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

It is interesting to note that the book mentioned above was first printed in 1776–a year which may ring a bell for many of you.

Of course, while Mr. Smith’s thoughts may not be welcome in DC, that is precisely where they are needed.

2 thoughts on “Mr. Smith Goes From Washington

  1. Ah, but Mr. Smith also defined very clear roles for government, like preventing invaders from beating us up, preventing us from beating ourselves up, and doing those important public works that the private sector cannot or will not take on. There is an argument to be made that fixing the economic mess created by an avaricious and irresponsible private sector falls reasonably within Smith’s proper roles of government. SMith might welcome the opportunity to go to Washington and remind the conservative fundamentalists that he’s not the laissez-faire radical they pretend he was.

  2. CA Heidelberger,

    Since I disagree that the “mess” was caused by “an avaricious and irresponsible private sector” I find no reason to believe that Smith would support government’s further meddling in an affair which it largely caused by doing exactly what his quote above warns against.

    One would be hard pressed to think Adam Smith was not an advocate of free markets. I would agree that if we look at any person’s philosophy (Smith included) one can find inconsistencies and imperfections, but he was far from a statist (one who believes that the government is/has the answer no matter the question).

    Like us, he was human, but he was a human with a remarkable capacity for understanding economic behavior.

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