AN INQUIRY INTO THE NATURE AND CAUSES OF
THE WEALTH OF NATIONS.
by Adam Smith
INTRODUCTION AND PLAN OF THE WORK.
The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it
with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which it annually
consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that
labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.
According, therefore, as this produce, or what is purchased with it, bears a
greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are to consume it,
the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the necessaries and
conveniencies for which it has occasion.
But this proportion must in every nation be regulated by two different
circumstances: first, by the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which its
labour is generally applied; and, secondly, by the proportion between the
number of those who are employed in useful labour, and that of those who are
not so employed. Whatever be the soil, climate, or extent of territory of
any particular nation, the abundance or scantiness of its annual supply
must, in that particular situation, depend upon those two circumstances.
The abundance or scantiness of this supply, too, seems to depend more upon
the former of those two circumstances than upon the latter. Among the savage
nations of hunters and fishers, every individual who is able to work is more
or less employed in useful labour, and endeavours to provide, as well as he
can, the necessaries and conveniencies of life, for himself, and such of his
family or tribe as are either too old, or too young, or too infirm, to go
a-hunting and fishing. Such nations, however, are so miserably poor, that,
from mere want, they are frequently reduced, or at least think themselves
reduced, to the necessity sometimes of directly destroying, and sometimes of
abandoning their infants, their old people, and those afflicted with
lingering diseases, to perish with hunger, or to be devoured by wild beasts.
Among civilized and thriving nations, on the. contrary, though a great
number of people do not labour at all, many of whom consume the produce of
ten times, frequently of a hundred times, more labour than the greater part
of those who work ; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is so
great, that all are often abundantly supplied ; and a workman, even of the
lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy a
greater share of the necessaries and conveniencies of life than it is
possible for any savage to acquire.
The causes of this improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the
order according to which its produce is naturally distributed among the
different ranks and conditions of men in the society, make the subject of
the first book of this Inquiry.
Whatever be the actual state of the skill, dexterity, and judgment, with
which labour is applied in any nation, the abundance or scantiness of its
annual supply must depend, during the continuance of that state, upon the
proportion between the number of those who are annually employed in useful
labour, and that of those who are not so employed. The number of useful and
productive labourers, it will hereafter appear, is everywhere in proportion
to the quantity of capital stock which is employed in setting them to work,
and to the particular way in which it is so employed. The second book,
therefore, treats of the nature of capital stock, of the manner in which it
is gradually accumulated, and of the different quantities of labour which it
puts into motion, according to the different ways in which it is employed.
Nations tolerably well advanced as to skill, dexterity, and judgment, in the
application of labour, have followed very different plans in the general
conduct or direction of it; and those plans have not all been equally
favourable to the greatness of its produce. The policy of some nations has
given extraordinary encouragement to the industry of the country ; that of
others to the industry of towns. Scarce any nation has dealt equally and
impartially with every sort of industry. Since the down-fall of the Roman
empire, the policy of Europe has been more favourable to arts, manufactures,
and commerce, the industry of towns, than to agriculture, the Industry of
the country. The circumstances which seem to have introduced and
established this policy are explained in the third book.
Though those different plans were, perhaps, first introduced by the private
interests and prejudices of particular orders of men, without any regard to,
or foresight of, their consequences upon the general welfare of the society;
yet they have given occasion to very different theories of political
economy; of which some magnify the importance of that industry which is
carried on in towns, others of that which is carried on in the country.
Those theories have had a considerable influence, not only upon the opinions
of men of learning, but upon the public conduct of princes and sovereign
states. I have endeavoured, in the fourth book, to explain as fully and
distinctly as I can those different theories, and the principal effects
which they have produced in different ages and nations.
To explain in what has consisted the revenue of the great body of the
people, or what has been the nature of those funds, which, in different ages
and nations, have supplied their annual consumption, is the object of these
four first books. The fifth and last book treats of the revenue of the
sovereign, or commonwealth. In this book I have endeavoured to shew, first,
what are the necessary expenses of the sovereign, or commonwealth ; which of
those expenses ought to be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole
society, and which of them, by that of some particular part only, or of some
particular members of it: secondly, what are the different methods in which
the whole society may be made to contribute towards defraying the expenses
incumbent on the whole society, and what are the principal advantages and
inconveniencies of each of those methods ; and, thirdly and lastly, what are
the reasons and causes which have induced almost all modern governments to
mortgage some part of this revenue, or to contract debts; and what have been
the effects of those debts upon the real wealth, the annual produce of the
land and labour of the society.