Adam Smith is a very well-known Scottish philosopher and economist. He is often referred to as one of the first free market capitalists the world has ever come across and is hailed as the father of modern economics, especially due to his advocacy against intervention from the government which poses restrictions on free markets.
Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Though no official record of his birth exists, he is believed to have been baptized on June 16, 1723. Smith’s early education took place at the Burgh School where he was familiarized with Latin, mathematics, history and writing. He subsequently enrolled in the University of Glasgow at an early age of just 14, receiving a scholarship in the process. Smith later moved on to the Balliol College at Oxford in 1740 where he obtained substantial knowledge of European literature. After completing his academics, Smith returned to Scotland and joined the University of Edinburgh in 1748 in the capacity of a professor. He also crossed paths with legendary philosopher and economist, David Hume, during this time and formed a close relationship with him. Smith was eventually recruited by the University of Glasgow in 1751, where he was first made chair of logic, and later of moral philosophy in 1752.
Smith published one of his most famous works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in 1759. This contained a lot of the material he covered in his lectures at Glasgow. The book primary argument was concerned with human morality; that the existence of morality depends on the strength of the relationship between the individual and other members of the society. He claimed that mutual sympathy existed between humans because they had the ability to feel other people’s emotions just as they recognize their own. Following the success of his book, Smith left his professorship in Glasgow as he traveled to France to train the soon to be Duke of Buccleuch of the time. In the course of his endeavors, he came across other prominent thinkers such as Voltaire, Francois Quesnay and Jacques Rousseau, whose influence had an effect on his future works.
After completing his term with the duke, Adam Smith returned to Kirkcaldy where he began working on his next book, The Wealth of Nations. This was published in 1776 and became an instant hit among readers. It was considered by many as the first book on political economy, and created waves in the field by discarding the notion that a country’s resources were measured by its stacks of gold and silver. Smith argued that it was instead the total output produced by the economy which was the proper metric, better known as the Gross Domestic Product. He also delved in to the study of specialization and division of labor, and how it goes on the increase the quality and quality of goods and services produced.
Smith’s economic teaching revolutionized the discipline by giving it a new perspective. His works propagated Laissez-faire approaches to economics, stemming from the belief that markets are better off without government intrusion e.g. via taxes. Smith believed in this idea has claimed the existence of an ‘invisible hand’ in the economy which regulated demand and supply within markets. His faith in the invisible hand was based on the principle that as all individuals act in their own best interests, they inadvertently lead to set of actions that are most beneficial for the whole of society. The Wealth of Nations emerged as one of the most influential books ever written, forming the basis for classical economics.
Adam Smith passed away aged 67, three years after being honored as the rector of the University of Glasgow.