Adam Smith Capitalism

Adam Smith Capitalism. Using the principle of complete liberty, Adam Smith laid out a blueprint for social structure. In a capitalist economy, private property and voluntary exchange are the dominant features. In a functional and productive commercial society, Smith emphasized the importance of labor division, competition, capital accumulation, and private property.

Adam Smith Capitalism
Adam Smith Capitalism

In his writing, he painted a picture of society as a whole progressing toward a far-off but clearly evident goal: Progress. In Political Economy, or in today’s language, Economics, he presented a vision of society in which individuals pursue their own self-interest without central planning or the involvement of the state. 

In his laws of the market, he attempted to address the fundamental question of how private interests and passions might be channeled in a way that benefits society as a whole. Although everyone is preoccupied with their own self-interest, he was curious about what keeps society together.

According to his market rules, competition among self-motivated individuals causes commodities to be distributed to society at a market price that society is willing to pay.

Smith was a pre-industrial capitalist economist whose name is typically associated with words like self-interest, laissez-faire, and the invisible hand. Despite Smith’s panegyric for a free and unfettered market, he acknowledged three key government functions in a society of natural liberty. 

First and foremost, it must safeguard that civilization from external aggression and invasion. Second, it should ensure that all citizens are treated fairly in the administration of justice.

Third, the government is responsible for establishing and maintaining public institutions and public works that may be highly beneficial to a large population, but are of such a character that the profit would never be sufficient to compensate anyone or small group of individuals.

Summary: Adam Smith Capitalism

Founder of the social philosophy and political-economic movement, Adam Smith was born on June 5, 1723, in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, and died in Edinburgh on July 17, 1790. He attended the Universities of Glasgow and Oxford as the son of a customs official.

Smith established a lifelong friendship with David Hume during a series of public lectures in Edinburgh (starting in 1748), which led to his appointment to the Glasgow faculty in 1751. 

Following the publication of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Smith became the tutor of the future Duke of Buccleuch (1763–66); with him, he traveled to France and spoke with other eminent thinkers. A comprehensive system of political economy was published by Smith after nine years of work in 1776, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

It argued for a system of economic growth based on individual self-interest that would be guided, as if by an “invisible hand,” to achieve the greatest good for all, and introduced the division of labor as a key factor for growth.

As a reaction to the mercantilistic system at the time, it marks the beginning of classical economics. It became virtually the most influential work on economics ever published and won him an enormous reputation. 

Even though it is often referred to as the bible of capitalism, it is harshly critical of the shortcomings of unrestrained free enterprise and monopoly. Smith was appointed commissioner of customs for Scotland in 1777 and rector of the University of Glasgow in 1787.


“Capital” was defined by Smith as stock, and “profit” as the revenue generated from the improvement of stock. The central aim of economics and politics should also be capital improvement, according to Smith.

In detail, Capitalism is a widely adopted economic system in which production means are privately owned. It is common for capitalist systems in the modern era to include a market economy in which the production and pricing of goods, as well as the income of individuals, are largely determined by market forces driven by interactions between private businesses and individuals rather than by central planning undertaken by the government or local institution.

In capitalism, property rights, profit motives, and market competition are the primary elements.


Smith’s religious beliefs have been the subject of considerable scholarly debate. Smith’s father was a member of the moderate wing of the Church of Scotland and had a strong faith in Christianity. Considering Adam Smith received the Snell Exhibition, it is likely that he went to Oxford with the intention of pursuing a career in the Church of England.  

In his essay on Smith, Anglo-American economist Ronald Coase claimed that Smith was not a deist, since he never explicitly attributed harmony to God or to nature. Coase notes that although Smith sometimes refers to the “Great Architect of the Universe,” later scholars such as Jacob Viner overstated Smith’s commitment to a belief in a personal God. 

In passages such as the one in the Wealth of Nations in which Smith writes that human curiosity about “the generation, the life, the growth and dissolution of plants and animals” have led men to “enquire into their causes”, Coase finds little evidence for such a belief. 

“Superstition first tried to satisfy this curiosity by attributing all those wonderful appearances to the immediate action of the gods, while philosophy later attempted to explain these phenomena” from more familiar causes or from that which mankind was more familiar with than the action of the gods.


Smith’s ethics depend heavily on judging people’s behavior (ours and others) and on getting feedback. We naturally expect people to act appropriately – that is, they will act in a way that others consider acceptable. However, there is no clear distinction between praiseworthy and blameworthy conduct. Respect for propriety entails a range of acceptable behaviors. 

The actions people take can vary according to where they fall within that range. However, people do not always succeed in conforming to propriety. They should be held accountable if their behavior falls far short of propriety. The behavior of those who go above and beyond what is expected is commendable.

In Smith’s ethics, the tradeoff between competing moral goods is weighed to resolve murky situations. Proponents of free markets and free societies should be attracted to such ethics. In addition to considering a variety of circumstances, motives, and consequences of actions, they also maintain that Smith’s ethics system allows for a great deal of variation across groups within society. 

A geographical or demographic group of people can experiment with adopting and enforcing different taboos that do not legally bind outsiders to the group-though outsiders may feel disapproval and censure when they enter the group and break its rules.

Smith’s ethical system is particularly compelling for a large multicultural society like the United States since it allows for variation and experimentation when it comes to how communities apply moral principles to social norms.moral principles that transcend time and place.

However, the advantage of Smith’s morals approach, as opposed to  Rothbard or Rand, is that it pays a lot of attention to gray areas and vagueness.

Instead of just focusing on justice, important though that is, Smith emphasizes the importance of not only living virtuously, but debating, judging, and even censing others who don’t live virtuously. Social norms are formed, developed, and evolved through this conversation and judgment, and thus promote harmony and cooperation in society.


There was no socialism in Adam Smith’s life. Although Adam Smith has often been called “the father of capitalism,” one might be inclined these days to think it was an economics text written by a communist if one were to read his The Wealth of Nations without knowing who wrote it. 

Adam Smith’s analysis and Marxian economics share considerably more similarities than Adam Smith’s analysis and modern-day neoclassical economics.  

He also viewed society as being divided into “classes,” but his categorization differed slightly from Marx’s. Rather than dividing society into two major groups, he saw it as being divided into three: the capitalist, the worker, and the landlord. The three great orders are not called “classes,” but rather “three great orders.” He avoids the term “capitalist,” instead of referring to them as “masters.”

He was particularly critical of landlords because they don’t do the same type of labor as workers nor do they take the same risk as capitalists. While living on land, they collected rent without contributing much to society as a whole.

Smith was also concerned about allowing too much wealth to flow into the hands of the idle. Wealth should not be hoarded by landlords and capitalists, instead, it should be expended on productive labor, as it is that labor that develops the economy.

Bottom line

In the publication of “The Wealth of Nations,” modern capitalism and economics became real. Interestingly enough, Adam Smith, the champion of the free market, spent his last years as a commissioner of customs, meaning he was responsible for enforcing all the tariffs. When he discovered that many of his clothes had been smuggled into shops from abroad, he took the work seriously and burned many of them.

Despite its historical irony, his invisible hand continues to exert influence today. A vision of plenty and freedom for all was offered by Smith, who overturned the miserly view of mercantilism. He may have raised the global standard of living more than any other single idea in history with his vision of a free market, even though it has not yet been fully realized.

Read also: Business Philosophy; What is Financial Freedom?

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