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Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Economist and philosopher

Kirkcaldy-born academic at Glasgow University and one of David Hume’s circle of Edinburgh intellectuals, Adam Smith gained lasting and world fame for his treatise on laissez-faire, The Wealth of Nations. It was instantly influential and successful, and has never been out of print. Smith’s ideas continue to influence economists today.

More About Adam Smith. A true giant is Adam Smith, the Kirkcaldy boy who invented the modern science of economics. Karl Marx was a bit nasty to him, dismissing him as the pioneer of capitalism, which isn't really true: in fact Marx borrowed part of his analysis of society from the man who first saw what economic life was all about.

After studying at Glasgow and Oxford, Adam Smith joined the glittering intellectual mob of Enlightenment Edinburgh, which included the marvellous David Hume, John Home and others. He was second to none. His mind was like a long-lasting firework. In 1751, before he was 30, he was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow-University. In the following year he switched to the university's chair of moral philosophy.

His first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, was published in 1759. The thrust of that was not brutal capitalism. but human sympathy. His major work was, of course, The Wealth of Nations. It was all about the division of labour, mercantile monopolies and the results of economic freedom. It didn't advocate capitalism, but it did analyse it. Some of the writers who followed Smith along this intellectual course were all for Iaissez-faire capitalism, the devil take the hindmost. That wasn't Smith's tack. He was still obsessed with moral sentiments.

He was honoured with membership of the Royal Society and was for a time lord rector of Glasgow University. The man had such fierce mental energy but some of his best thoughts were only recorded in the frantically scribbled-down notes made by people attending the lectures he gave during his years in Edinburgh and while at Glasgow University. He would pour out his genius without reference to a text, and afterwards never bothered to write down an account of it himself.

In a time of wild intellectual energy, when Edinburgh was the ideas capital of Europe. Adam Smith was one of the big minds. And in spite of what Karl Marx said, he was a very nice man.