Saturday, June 5, 2010

Adam Smith

The author of "The Wealth of Nations" (1776), and the man responsible for the economic concept of the invisible hand of the marketplace, was born on June 5, 1723.  Smith was born in Kirkaldy, Scotland.  A major figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, he became a friend of David Hume, among others.

Walter Scott includes a reference to Adam Smith in the introduction to "The Fortunes of Nigel", in which the fictional Captain Clutterbuck interviews the Author of Waverly:

"...Captain. You are determined to proceed then in your own system ? Are you aware that an unworthy motive may be assigned for this rapid succession of publication ? You will be supposed to work merely for the lucre of gain.

Author. Supposing that I did permit the great advantages which must be derived from success in literature to join with other motives in inducing me to come more frequently before the public, that emolument is the voluntary tax which the public pays for a certain species of literary amusement; it is extorted from no one, and paid, I presume, by those only who can afford it, and who receive gratification in proportion to the expense. If the capital sum which these volumes have put into circulation be a very large one, has it contributed to my indulgences only ? or can I not: say to hundreds, from honest Duncan the paper-manufacturer to the most snivelling of the printer's devils, "Didst thou not share ? Hadst thou not fifteen pence ?" I profess I think our Modern Athens much obliged to me for having established such an extensive manufacture; and when universal suffrage comes in fashion, I intend to stand for a seat in the House on the interest of all the unwashed artificers connected with literature.

Captain. This would be called the language of a calicomanufacturer.

Author. Cant again, my dear son : there is lime in this sack, too ; nothing but sophistication in this world ! I do say it, in spite of Adam Smith and his followers, that a successful author is a productive laborer, and that his works constitute as effectual a part of the public wealth as that which is created by any other manufacturer. If a new commodity, having an actually intrinsic and commercial value, be the result of the operation, why are the author's bales of books to be esteemed a less profitable part of the public stock than the goods of any other manufacturer ? I speak with reference to the diffusion of the wealth arising to the public, and the degree of industry which even such a trifling work as the present must stimulate and reward, before the volumes leave the publisher's shop. Without me it could not exist, and to this extent I am a benefactor to the country. As for my own emolument, it is won by my toil, and I account myself answerable to Heaven only for the mode in which I expend it. The candid may hope it is not all dedicated to selfish purposes; and, without much pretensions to merit in him who disburses it, apart may "wander, heaven-directed, to the poor."

Captain. Yet it is generally held base to write from the mere motives of gain.

Author. It would be base to do so exclusively, or even to make it a principal motive for literary exertion. Nay, I will venture to say that no work of imagination, proceeding from the mere consideration of a certain sum of copymoney, ever did, or ever will, succeed. So the lawyer who pleads, the soldier who fights, the physician who prescribes, the clergyman—if such there be—who preaches, without any zeal for his profession, or without any sense of its dignity, and merely on account of the fee, pay or stipend, degrade themselves to the rank of sordid mechanics. Accordingly, in the case of two of the learned faculties at least, their services are considered as unappreciable, and are acknowledged, not by any exact estimate of the services rendered, out by a honorarium, or voluntary acknowledgment. But let a client or patient make the experiment of omitting this little ceremony of the honorarium, which is cense to be a thing entirely out of consideration between them, and mark how the learned gentleman will look upon his case. Cant set apart it is the same thing with literary emolument. No man of sense, in any rank of life, is, or ought to be, above accepting a just recompense for his time, and a reasonable share of the capital which owes its very existence to his exertions. When Czar Peter wrought in the trenches, he took the pay of a common soldier; and nobles, statesmen and divines, the most distinguished of their time, have not scorned to square accounts with their bookseller..."

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