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On Smith, I haven't read him, but I'm wondering to what extent he conceived of the concept of long term system wide per capita economic growth.  Or in other words, did he buy into the just emerging belief in Progress and if so, how did he understand it?  Because at first glance what he's describing is the way things had worked for the vast majority of the population in pretty much every civilization before the combined impacts of rapidly rising agricultural and manufacturing productivity outstripping population growth that only became fully apparent a couple generations after his death.

On The Wealth of Nations is organized and written much like an encyclopedia of economics for the 18th century and runs to four volumes in the original. That makes it very time consuming to read in its entirety, but convenient to dip into on specific topics. Towards the end of Book I is a section entitled: "Different Effects of the Progress of Improvement upon the real Price of three different Sorts of rude Produce" and a little later: "Effects of the Progress of Improvement upon the real Price of Manufacturers"

Smith was very familiar with the idea of progress, having been from late 1763, on David Hume's recommendation, the tutor to Henry Scott, the young Duke of Buccleuch at double his income from the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow and a pension of equal amount. This entailed touring Europe as well as tutoring and he spent time in Geneva with Voltaire and in Paris, where he spent time with Turgot and Quesnay, among others.

Smith was also familiar with the early progress of water driven mechanization of textile production in England and both the carding and spinning of thead had been mechanized by the 1740s and Arkwright had patented his improvements of Kay and Highs' spinning machines in the 1760s. Arkwright's first continuous cotton mill was in operation a few years before the publication of Wealth of Nations.

But Smith's sensibility had been formed well before the Industrial Revolution had begun and Wealth of Nations was published before the factory system had transformed English society. Smith's approach hearkened back to Bacon and Newton and was empirical and descriptive, not deductive.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Dec 23rd, 2010 at 05:59:11 PM EST
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