The Wealth of Nations Essay

955 Words 4 Pages
The Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith’s famous attempt to explain the nature and causes of the wealth of nations rests on several crucial assumptions about human nature which in turn rely on false universalism and questionable dichotomies.

To begin with, Smith makes roughly three claims about human nature. Primarily, Smith assumes that self-interest is inherent in all human beings. As opposed to animals which rely on benevolence, in opposition to natural pity (Rousseau p. 53), the human “will be more likely to prevail if he can interest [others’] self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them” (Smith, p. 18). Smith later relies on this “self-love” to ground his arguments
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The three assumptions for the subject as self interested, rational and communicative, and inclined to truck and barter lay the foundations for Smith’s exposition on capitalism.

However, the very formula of suggesting a model of human nature, with as few elements as possible, and from that deriving a full account of the creation and justice (or injustice) of modern society is fundamentally flawed. Initially, the dichotomy of “natural” and “cultured” humans treats the specific as universal. The opposition is not culture versus nature, but our culture versus someone else’s “nature”. Rousseau makes this false neutrality evident with his references to the “natural” Caribs and Negroes (Rousseau p. 41,44,46), and Smith with discussion of landlocked and backward peoples (Smith p. 2,25). The racism inherent in the dichotomy makes it clear just how impossible it is to determine which human behavior is foundational and which is “merely” contrived. Even Smith’s description of human nature seems to pick up just where Rousseau leaves off, with a society on the brink of industrialization. What was in the one case considered artificial becomes, for Smith, the natural background upon which all artifices are to be built. Beyond this, it seems unlikely that a difficult to ascertain, highly
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