A Biography of Adam Smith

Adam Smith is best known for his book Wealth of Nations which was published in 1776. It was the first work to comprehensively spell out a coherent and intelligent economic theory of free markets. With clear and concise logic it shows the benefits of capitalism and illustrates how interference in those markets tends to hamper the ability of markets to efficiently use supply to meet demand. "The Wealth of Nations" remains commonly referenced today in academic works. The influence of Smith's thinking can be found in the works of David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman, and John Maynard Keynes. It is still taught in universities.

A Portrait of Adam Smith

He was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland in 1723 and raised by a widowed mother. Adam Smith was educated at Glasgow University on a scholarship in the midst of the Age of European Enlightenment. Later he went to Baliol College in Oxford. He was known to have been rather disdainful of Oxford, thinking the system somewhat corrupt. He had a rough time at the school because he adhered to the philosophy of David Hume and supported him in his writings.

Smith began his own academic career in 1751 when he was appointed to be a professor of logic at Glasgow University. The next year he took the chair of moral philosophy, which covered political economy (what we now call economics), ethics, rhetoric, and jurisprudence. In 1759 he published his first work, a summary of his lectures on ethical conduct and how it holds society together. It was called, Theory of Moral Sentiments.

In 1764 Smith was hired to tutor the Duke of Buccleuch and travelled Europe in his company, meeting many of the great philosophers of the age, including Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The Duke completed his grand tour of Europe and returned to Britain. Adam Smith spent some time in London with him where he became acquainted with prominent members of political and philosophical society, including Edmund Burke, and Edward Gibbons. By this time his reputation was such that he was accepted as a member of the Royal Society.

When the Duke achieved maturity Adam Smith received a pension and retired to his home town of Kirkcaldy to write his master work. He lived with his mother and occupied himself with writing his Wealth of Nations which was published in 1776. That same year he left Kirkcaldy and moved to London.

In 1777 he was made lord rector of the University of Edinburgh, and the next year he got the post of commissioner of customs of that city. For these posts he was well-paid. He contacted the Duke of Buccleuch and offered to relinquish his pension. The Duke continued to pay.

Adam Smith died in Edinburgh in 1790 on 17 July. After his death it was found that during his life he had given much of his wealth in secret acts of charity. Indeed, he had often enunciated the belief that individual charity played a huge roll in the life of a fulfilled individual. Ultimately, his work, the Wealth of Nations made him perhaps the most influential economist and philosopher of the modern era.

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