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The Wealth of Nations: Books 1-3 (Penguin Classics) (Bks.1-3) Paperback – March 25, 1982

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Adam Smith's enormous authority resides, in the end, in the same property that we discover in Marx: not in any ideology, but in an effort to see to the bottom of things."
--Robert L. Heilbroner

About the Author

Adam Smith (1723-90) was born in Glasgow and educated at Glasgow and Oxford.  Two years after his return to Scotland, Smith moved to Edinburgh, where he delivered lectures on Rhetoric. In 1751 Smith was appointed Professor of Logic at Glasgow, but was translated to chair of Moral Philosophy in 1752. His The Theory of Moral Sentiments was published in 1759 and The Wealth of Nations in 1776, the same year as the Declaration of Indpendence.

Andrew Skinner teaches at the Adam Smith Institute and is an expert on the author's work.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (March 25, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140432086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140432084
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #348,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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My review does not concern the content. Rather, I just wish to point out that the Modern Library edition is complete and unabridged in one volume (over a thousand pages) for less money than the Penguin edition. Also the Modern Library edition has helpful glosses that summarize each paragraph. Plus, for those with a preference, the Modern Library edition has footnotes instead of endnotes.

Just a heads up.
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Format: Paperback
Two centuries ago, Adam Smith explained the modern free-market economy. More than that, he discusses the need for, advantages of, and limitations of a free markets.
The introduction in this printing is especially good. Almost a book in itself, it extend for 50 pages and connects the book to other philosophers and economists. Almost, you don't need to read the book after you've read the introduction -- but do it anyway, just to be amazed at Smith's prescience.
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Format: Paperback
The Wealth of Nations handles a lot of economical phenomena in a concrete but sometimes complex way. On one hand the book is filled with ideas, some convincing, some out-dated, some fundamental to the current believe in free-markets. These ideas are combined with appealing (or appalling) examples of the injustice done to people by disturbing the free-market. On the other hand however, I find that certain sections of the book require a lot of concentration. The book is an interesting, but slow and at times difficult, read.

Essentially, it is a treatise on the power of individuals to maximise their own wealth and therefor a support for the natural liberty of men and an argument for free-markets. Not as a perfect system in which there will be no misery, but as a system that gives individuals the greatest (and most just) opportunity to gain happiness and which will be the quickest to respond to changes in supply and demand (and therefor decrease the misery which is created when governments ignore gaps between supply and demand).

It is not a book that believes in the pure goodness of companies (but explicitly states that companies have a interest which is directly opposite to that of society as a whole. I.e. the interest of companies is to create a supply shortage so they can ask prices above costprice), but says that the best way to break the power of these companies is the allow free competition. It also reveals that political decisions that at fist glance seems compassionate, might in fact be inhumane, cruel and the cause of much suffering (because on the long run they lead to a supply shortage). The examples given here, are still relevant to view the decisions made by politicians in today's so-called free market countries.
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Format: Paperback
This Book is a classic. I would not go so far as to add it to the western Canon, but it contains the foundations of modern Economics. Its explaination for how economies work is still unsurpassed. Division of Labour, the invisible hand of consumer demand and the uses and mis-uses of taxation are all here. It should be stressed however, that this edition does not include books IV and V which concern the proper role of govt. It is also the section most ideologues forget to read and contains all the rudiments for a minimal welfare state and and active role for govt. in planning FOR competition, NOT the planning OF competition --- a very important distinction and one lost on those who see no positive role for the state in the economy.
It is unfortunately most used as a classic for those seeking a rationale for exploitation. Smith did not intend it as such and to see it as that is indeed to read it very selectively. The invisible hand is a useful interpretation for demand economics, but it is, like all other things only a description of market forces as they operate. It is not always the best way to organise everything as modern day ideologues would presuppose. It is of course the basis of business --- and it should be --- but Smith also has lots to say about how other economic factors operate in society.
One thing to make clear is this: Smith is not anti-State, as some ideologues in the US would like to think. He is balanced in his view of the state --- it is best left out of economic planning --- but it does clearly have an important role to play. The role of the State is to
1) create the conditions for the smooth flow of capital and its allocation into its most efficient uses and not to erect barriers in the process.
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This book is so widely cited and interpreted contrary to the author's original thought, that every economist should read it completely to avoid being misled by such incorrect interpretations.

First, let us take the "invisible hand" metaphor. When I have studied economy in the University, I was taught that almost the entire book is devoted to the "invisible hand" which means "self-corrective markets", "liberalism", "Laissez-faire" and "state non-intervention". After reading this book, I have found out that Adam Smith did use the term "invisible hand" only once in the entire book, in the discussion of domestic versus foreign trade.

To illustrate the point, let me quote the text where term "invisible hand" is used: "First, every individual endeavours to employ his capital as near home as he can, and consequently as much as he can in the support of domestic industry, provided always that he can thereby obtain the ordinary, or not a great deal less than the ordinary profits of stock. Thus, upon equal, or nearly equal profits, every wholesale merchant naturally prefers the home trade to the foreign trade of consumption, and the foreign trade of consumption to the carrying trade. In the home trade, his capital is never so long out of his sight as it frequently is in the foreign trade of consumption. [...]Secondly, every individual who employs his capital in the support of domestic industry, necessarily endeavours so to direct that industry, that its produce may be of the greatest possible value. [...
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