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Contents > Author > Adam Smith > Wealth of Nations (Introduction) 1723- 1790
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Adam Smith
Wealth of Nations (Introduction)
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The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally
supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which
it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the
immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with
that produce from other nations.

According therefore, as this produce, or what is purchased
with it, bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of
those who are to consume it, the nation will be better or worse
supplied with all the necessaries and conveniencies for which it
has occasion.

But this proportion must in every nation be regulated by two
different circumstances; first, by the skill, dexterity, and judgment
with which its labour is generally applied; and, secondly, by the
proportion between the number of those who are employed in
useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed. Whatever
be the soil, climate, or extent of territory of any particular nation, the
abundance or scantiness of its annual supply must, in that particular
situation, depend upon those two circumstances.

The abundance or scantiness of this supply too seems to depend
more upon the former of those two circumstances than upon the latter.
Among the savage nations of hunters and fishers, every individual who
is able to work, is more or less employed in useful labour, and
endeavours to provide, as well as he can, the necessaries and
conveniencies, of life, for himself, or such of his family or tribe as are
either too old, or too young, or too infirm to go a hunting and fishing.
Such nations, however, are so miserably poor that, from mere want,
they are frequently reduced, or, at least, think themselves reduced,
to the necessity sometimes of directly destroying, and sometimes of
abandoning their infants, their old people, and those afflicted with
lingering diseases, to perish with hunger, or to be devoured by wild
beasts. Among civilized and thriving nations, on the contrary, though
a great number of people do not labour at all, many of whom consume
the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times more labour
than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole
labour of the society is so great, that all are often abundantly supplied,
and a workman, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and
industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and
conveniencies of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire.

The causes of this improvement, in the productive powers of labour,
and the order, according to which its produce is naturally distributed
among the different ranks and conditions of men in the society, make
the subject of the First Book of this Inquiry.

Whatever be the actual state of the skill, dexterity, and judgment
with which labour is applied in any nation, the abundance or scantiness
of its annual supply must depend, during the continuance of that state,
upon the proportion between the number of those who are annually
employed in useful labour, and of those who are not so employed. The
number of useful and productive labourers, it will hereafter appear, is
every where in proportion to the quantity of capital stock which is
employed in setting them to work and to the particular way in which it
is so employed. The Second Book, therefore, treats of the nature of
capital stock, of the manner in which it is gradually accumulated, and of
the different quantities of labour which it puts into motion, according to
the different ways in which it is employed.

Nations tolerably well advanced as to skill, dexterity, and judgment,
in the application of labour, have followed very different plans in the
general conduct or direction of it; and those plans have not all been
equally favourable to the greatness of its produce. The policy of some
nations has given extraordinary encouragement to the industry of the
country; that of others to the industry of towns. Scarce any nation has
dealt equally and impartially with every sort of industry. Since the downfall
of the Roman empire, the policy of Europe has been more favourable to
arts, manufactures, and commerce, the industry of towns; than to
agriculture, the industry of the country. The circumstances which seem to
have introduced and established this policy are explained in the Third Book.

Though those different plans were, perhaps, first introduced by the
private interests and prejudices of particular orders of men, without any
regard to, or foresight of, their consequences upon the general welfare
of the society; yet they have given occasion to very different theories of
political economy; of which some magnify the importance of that industry
which is carried on in towns, others of that which is carried on in the country.
Those theories have had a considerable influence, not only upon the
opinions of men of learning, but upon the public conduct of princes and
sovereign states. I have endeavoured, in the Fourth Book, to explain, as
fully and distinctly as I can, those different theories, and the principal
effects which they have produced in different ages and nations.

To explain in what has consisted the revenue of the great body of the
people, or what has been the nature of those funds, which, in different ages
and nations, have supplied their annual consumption, is the object of these
Four first Books. The Fifth and last Book treats of the revenue of the sovereign,
or commonwealth. In this book I have endeavoured to show; first, what are
the necessary expences of the sovereign, or commonwealth; which of those
expences ought to be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole
society; and which of them, by that of some particular part only, or of some
particular members of it: secondly, what are the different methods in which
the whole society may be made to contribute towards defraying the expences
incumbent on the whole society, and what are the principal advantages and
inconveniencies of each of those methods: and, thirdly and lastly, what are
the reasons and causes which have induced almost all modern governments
to mortgage some part of this revenue, or to contract debts, and what have
been the effects of those debts upon the real wealth, the annual produce of
the land and labour of the society.

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Read by: Alexander Gard-Murray

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