Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pol. Ideology 6: Quotes from Adam Smith

I stumbled on these good quotes here from Adam Smith, the father of free market economic thinking. I got these quotes from the Adam Smith Institute website,

I chose the quotes on "the invisible hand" and "the profusion of government". The quote on butcher and baker is very down to earth. The rice farmers and fisherfolks think mainly of themselves and the profit they can generate from their efforts, but in the process, society's welfare is served.

The quote on government, especially on "The whole, or almost the whole public revenue, is in most countries employed in maintaining unproductive hands..." is damning for many state bureaucrats and politicians.


(1) The invisible hand

Every individual...generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the 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.

--The Wealth of Nations, Book IV Chapter II

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.

-- The Wealth of Nations, Book I Chapter II

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.

-- The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part I Section I Chapter I

(2) The profusion of government

In the midst of all the exactions of government, capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement in almost all former times...

It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense... They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.

-- The Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter III

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner 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, not only to no single person, but to no council or 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.

-- The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II.

Great nations are never impoverished by private, though they sometimes are by public prodigality and misconduct. The whole, or almost the whole public revenue, is in most countries employed in maintaining unproductive hands... Such people, as they themselves produce nothing, are all maintained by the produce of other men's labour... Those unproductive hands, who should be maintained by a part only of the spare revenue of the people, may consume so great a share of their whole revenue, and thereby oblige so great a number to encroach upon their capitals, upon the funds destined for the maintenance of productive labour, that all the frugality and good conduct of individuals may not be able to compensate the waste and degradation of produce occasioned by this violent and forced encroachment.

-- The Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter III

The man of system…is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it… He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.

-- The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, Part VI, Section II, Chapter II.invisib

* See also :

Pol. Ideology 4: Comments to Minimal Government Manifesto,  December 05, 2005
Pol. Ideology 5: Have Movements for Liberty Progressed? June 26, 2006