Friday, August 08, 2008

On The Wealth of Nations

I recently finished reading The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. A weighty tome that took about a month to get through (my reading rate has dropped since I don't have an almost hour long commute each way). I actually got it back in January, but my reading of it got preempted by some other books (some of which I'll write about later).

When thinking about The Wealth of Nations the best comparison I can think of is to Dracula. Both are great works which were groundbreaking when they came out, but nowadays lose a lot of their immediate impact simply because the ideas in them have become so much a part of the ingrained knowledge of society. Ideas such as the division of labour, free trade, supply and demand are part of the basis of modern society, but were significant topics in his day.

The first two parts are definitely the strongest, and the most timeless. This deals with the ideas of labour and stock. The latter parts are of more interest historically but don't apply quite so well to the modern day.

The last part is of the expenses and revenues of the sovereign (government) and in those days the government was a lot smaller and less sprawling than most governments today are and people expect a lot more from their government today than anyone would have dreamed of in the 1700s.

Also less relevant to today is the warnings on the pitfalls of foreign colonies and the diversions on the historical values of the price of corn over the centuries. These are interesting, but a modern writer would perhaps have put those at least as an appendix or a separate volume, not as a digression during the middle of the text.

Overall it's a solid text that is definitely worthy of its place in history, but a lot of its message has already reached the modern audience.

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