from Martin Conrad at Barron’s; Finding the Path to Enrichment
Smith argued that man was an economic animal who, by his bargaining and exchanging in the marketplace, could benefit from the diverse talents and genius of all his fellow men. This led to his seminal theory that the most important source of wealth of a nation is not gold, silver, money currency, or even its land or natural resources, but “the skill, dexterity, and judgment” of its labor force.
We see this illustrated today by wealthy nations, such as Switzerland and Singapore, that possess modest amounts of land or natural resources but have grown rich by having educated, trained, productive labor forces.
Smith’s theories and observations also began the destruction of slavery, a universal institution throughout all of history. He destroyed the self-interest that motivated slavery by showing that economies based on it could not profitably compete with those based on a free, motivated, trained labor force.
These principles that enabled much of the world to escape its traditional Malthusian trap still show their power. In 1950 oil-rich Venezuela was more than three times as rich per capita as South Korea. Yet by 2011 this relation was nearly reversed as capitalist South Korea’s per capita GDP was nearly three times that of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, despite several years of $100-a-barrel oil.
This most practical, effective utopian philosopher has been so successful because his system works well with people — not as they morally should be, nor as he wanted them to be, but for people just as they are, which was good enough. Adam Smith described the way to harness intellectual capacity and instinctual ambition for the common good. We live and thrive today in mostly his world.