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We wonder about the endlessly volatile markets and also (not often enough) about plainly unequal distributions of national wealth, but are the nation’s official policy responses based on correct views of classical economic theory? In particular, what about Adam Smith and his oft-quoted arguments for “free market capitalism”? More than any other classical theorist, Smith has been embraced by conservatives.
Adam Smith published his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776. A revolutionary book, Wealth did not aim to support the interests of any one particular class, but rather the overall well being of an entire nation. He sought, as every American high school student learns, "an invisible hand," whereby "the private interests and passions of men" will lead to "that which is most agreeable to the interest of a whole society."