Adam Smith on happiness

What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in health, out of debt and has a clear conscience?

This quotation is from Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) is the founder of the modern discipline of economics.  He was a strong advocate of free enterprise and business competition, but he was not a friend of corporations, which in his time were almost all government-sponsored monopolies, nor did he oppose public works or a social safety net for the poor.

Being an old, retired guy with time on his hands, I read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments  several years ago.  As with most great classics, I found it different from what I had been told about it.   Adam Smith was not a social Darwinist, who believed in competition as a way of weeding out the unfit.   Rather he saw free enterprise as a way people could exchange things to their mutual benefit without interference of government on behalf of vested interests.

I hesitate to say how Adam Smith would judge current economic controversies, since today’s issues are so different from those of his time.  I don’t claim his ideas are the same as the ideas of self-described liberals such as myself, but I don’t think he aligns with self-described conservatives either.  He most certainly did not believe in maximizing wealth as a worthy purpose in life.

Click on Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy for a blog devoted to setting the record straight on Adam Smith.

Click on Adam Smith’s Theory of Happiness for more about Smith’s moral philosophy.

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