Is Adam Smith the prototypical economist whose work forms a basis for free-market economics and capitalism based in material wealth we view him as today?
His background and works besides the Wealth of Nations tells a richer story. While The Wealth of Nations was fundamental to economics, he studied “social Philosophy” and taught “moral Philosophy,” concerning himself with motivations, passions, feelings, and emotions, out of which emerged The Wealth of Nations. His first major work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” covered morality and emotions, and at least one biographer said Smith considered it his best work.
A quote of Smith’s, in fact the opening to The Theory of Moral Sentiments, shows he saw emotions and feelings as fundamental to economics, not just material wealth, and not the other way around. His view of economics seems rooted not in gold and silver, which people before him held as the foundation of a nation’s wealth, but in people’s lives, based in their motivations, emotions, and feelings.
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
As I read him, his word pleasure combines my words pleasure, happiness, and emotional reward, as I outline in my post “A model to find reward anywhere, anytime.” If so, I can’t think of what greater value one could anyone derive from anything than the pleasure of the results of one’s efforts. I have to agree with his starting point in feelings and emotions for what he arrived at later, including economics.
I can’t help but note that his use of the word “nothing” clashes with my view that value derives from emotions and feelings. What more could you want than to feel reward for your actions, especially the rich, complex, and enduring reward of helping others?
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees