The Wealth of Nations, 1776
Author: Adam Smith was a Scottish moral philosopher, and is known as “the father of modern economics.” He enjoyed a thorough education at the University of Glasgow, and after graduating traveled around Europe as a tutor.
Context: Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations during the Industrial Revolution. It was published shortly after Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. At the time, Great Britain’s economy was booming, and it’s imperialist influence was spreading through Africa, the Americas, and Asia.
Language: Smith uses simple and concise language. His ideas are well developed and clearly explained.
Audience: The Wealth of Nations targeted an educated demographic. Smith wanted to influence people who could affect the economy, like business men, philosophers, and political officials.
Intent: The objective was to explain economic ideas, like productivity, division of labor, free markets, and the invisible hand. The first chapter discusses the division of labor
Message: The Wealth of Nations is a collection of ideas that Smith hypothesized would build a nation’s prosperity. The first chapter focusses on the three benefits of the division of labor. Firstly, with divided labor, each contributor is very good at producing his or her product, and can therefore produce a lot of it. Secondly, dividing labor prevents contributors from having to switch tasks, which wastes time. Thirdly, when contributors focus on one simple task, they are more likely to find an easier, more efficient way to perform that task.
Essay on Population, 1798
Author: Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric and scholar. He believed that society can never be perfect, and disagreed with many 18th century enlightenment thinkers. He pioneered Malthusianism, which explains the “preventative checks” on populations, such as disease, food supply, and available space.
Context: Disease and famine were common in England, even with the agricultural and medical advancements form the Industrial Revolution. England’s population was increasing, and people were starting to live longer
Language: Malthus uses colorful and descriptive language.
Audience: Malthus’ Essay on Population targeted an intellectual demographic. It’s audience was even more specific than Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Malthus wanted to influence scholars and thinkers like himself
Intent: The goal was to show that society cannot be perfect. There will always be food shortages, disease, and other problems.
Message: There is a cap on every human population. Disease, limited food, and limited space prevent society from increasing forever. Once the population gets too big, people will die off because of a lack of food or space. As the population drops, more food or space will become available. The population will rise again, only to fall as food or space become scarce.