The Wealth of Nations and Essay on Population

An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations

Author: Adam Smith. A pioneering economist who developed revolutionary concepts associated with free market economic theory. He argued that rational people, acting in their own self-interest, could create en efficient economic system. He studied in England but was of Scottish decent. He was influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment.

Context: The work was published in 1776. It was published during the beginning of the industrial revolution in response to the outdated economic ideas of the time. The industrial revolution necessitated a new understanding of how a modern economic systems function.

Language: Very clear and concise; he argues his points with many examples and avoids using difficult rhetoric.

Audience: Intellectuals and Industry leaders of the day. Since the language is easily comprehended this work could also appeal to intellectually curious members of the middle and upper classes.

Intent: To explain how the division of labor leads to a boost in output. A team of workers, each of whom have one specific task, can produce a good far more efficiently than one man who must be versed in every phase of production.

Message: Industrialization and the division of labor provide societies with far more good than societies who are less developed and who do not capitalize on the advantages that the division of labor provides. The standard of living in industrialized societies is superior because goods are more numerous and attainable, so there is less disparity between the upper and lower class than in underdeveloped nations. 


First Essay on Population (1798)

Author: Thomas Malthus. He was a highly educated Englishmen who had strong ties with the Church of England. He was well versed in the humanities, but also in mathematics. He argued against many popular opinions of the time, which is perhaps why he first published the work under the alias Joseph Johnson.

Context: Industrialization had spurred rapid population growth, especially in urban areas. Many Enlightenment thinkers who believed that society would continue to constantly improve without any hitches surrounded him. Some of his beliefs were in contrast with those of his friends, so he sought to cast doubt on their beliefs by pointing disconcerting population trends.

Language: Eloquent and declamatory. Does a good job hammering his point.

Audience: Targeted towards the intellectuals of the society. He originally wrote this piece in rebuttal to some of his enlightenment-influenced colleagues and friends. Although the text has many repercussions for everyday people, I doubt they composed much of the audience.

Intent: To prove that human society can never be perfected because if it is proven that it cannot be perfected in one particular area, then those who belief it can be perfected as a whole will be proven wrong.

Message: Humanity is trapped in a vicious cycle that coincides with food production and the population. When the population of a particular area reaches a certain point it will usher in a period of misery or vice because the demand for food exceeds the supply. Eventually the situation will become tolerable once again as food production is bolstered through human innovation, but this cycle will once again repeat itself as populations continue to grow past a certain threshold. This reality is unavoidable as it is inseparable form human nature. Thus humanity can never achieve perfection.

3 thoughts on “The Wealth of Nations and Essay on Population

  1. I think that you definitely identified Smith’s main message when you described it as thus: “Industrialization and the division of labor provide societies with far more good than societies who are less developed….” What I find interesting though, about Smith’s point of view, is that he looked at economics through a very narrow Western European view. For example, at the end of the reading, he wrote that the quality of living of a typical peasant (European, we must assume) is better than that of an African monarch. While I am sure that those two people lived very different lives, I think that it was very narrow-minded (although admittedly reflective of his time and place) to assume that the European way was automatically the better way.

  2. Your use of the ACLAIM method in these two readings was really well done. The message, however for the “Essay on Population” stood out to me the most. The vicious cycle that humanity is trapped in, is a non-changing one. Altering these postulates that were presented in the writing would go against the many laws that define human life as we wander about society today. The author clearly got his point across to even the naive reader.

  3. In reading your take on Adam Smith and his essay, I could not agree more with you. One point that stands out in particular is when you claim that his writing is both “clear and concise,” for I think Smith does a tremendous job of this through using many examples (like you mention above). One example that helps Smith make his point is when he spoke to the “dexterity of the workman,” (Smith 5). In this passage, Smith used the example of a “common smith” (Smith 5) and compared two different types of workers. To start, Smith claimed that one worker, while he had experience using a hammer, had “never been used to make nails,” (Smith 5). Smith claimed that this worker would not be effective if someone asked him to make nails, for he could make a few hundred nails but they would be poorly made due to his lack of versatility. To counter this, Smith provided another example of a worker. In this example, Smith claimed that this worker could make nails, but his sole purpose was not to make nails, as he was versatile. This worker, Smith claimed, would not only be able to make good nails, but would be able to make close to one thousand nails in a days work. Ultimately, through this very basic example, Smith made a clear and concise argument: The more diverse the worker is, the more the worker can help the industry for he is able to perform multiple tasks. When one is able to perform multiple tasks, his value increases because he can contribute to multiple divisions of labor, thus helping to increase production.

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