Monday, February 23, 2015

Reflections on the Core: The Wealth of Nations - Adam Smith

“The difference of natural talents in different man is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour.
The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world … they were, perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference.
Without the disposition of truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.”

- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter II

I am reading this book with a famous Columbia joke in mind: A Goldman Sachs recruiter asked an applicant to put his hand on Smith’s Wealth of Nation, and take an oath that he renounces Marx(ism)… (both are required texts in Columbia’s Core Curriculum). Yet, while Smith’s is known as the father of modern day capitalism, it seems that he was far from being simply a material capitalist; he was a philosopher, and some kind of humanist as well. While he constantly ignores Rousseau’s (direct or indirect, I don’t know from an historical perspective if he ever read Rousseau) philosophy about inequality and the state of nature, he is very far from a modern capitalist. An urge for equality, between all sects of humanity bleeds through his words. But after all, maybe I should reconsider what I think about capitalism.

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