ADAM SMITH'S PESSIMISTIC VIEW OF THE FUTURE OF COMMERCIAL SOCIETY: RHETORIC OR REALITY?

Adam Smith is generally viewed as a great optimist about commerce and commercialism. Consistent with this assessment is the conventional view that Smith believed in progress: he had an optimistic view of history. On the other hand, occasionally over the last thirty years commentators, such as Heilbroner, have suggested that Smith actually had a very pessimistic view of history and the prospects of commercial society. Can we explain Smith's apparent inconsistencies? One solution is that Smith "changed his mind" during his lifetime. Another suggestion, proposed by Muller, is that Heilbroner (and others holding similar views) failed to understand Smith's rhetoric. Muller is correct in suggesting that there is exaggeration in some of Smith's pessimistic statements. Nevertheless, Smith's vision has a darker tincture than Muller acknowledges: much of Smith's pessimism about commercial society remains a reality which cannot be neatly explained away as "rhetoric."


Issue Date:
2003
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
PURL Identifier:
http://purl.umn.edu/23705
Total Pages:
18
Series Statement:
Discussion Paper 03.05




 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-24

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