Six years ago, Bantam Classic published a mass-market volume of Smith’s 1776 masterwork, “The Wealth of Nations,” with an introduction by Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton. Krueger argued that Smith’s modern image had become unhinged from his actual writings. “Smith was a nuanced thinker. He was not nearly as doctrinaire a defender of unfettered free enterprise as many of his late-20th-century followers have made him out to be,” Krueger wrote. “He recognized that human judgment was not infallible.”
Smith was indeed a champion of individual liberty and worried about how governments might muck up an economy. But he also wrote that the goal of employers, “always and everywhere,” was to keep wages as low as possible. “When the regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters,” he concluded. He supported a tax on luxury carriages and taxes on alcohol, sugar and tobacco. He said that “negligence and profusion” inevitably occur when corporate managers control shareholders’ money. And as the historian Emma Rothschild has noted, “The Wealth of Nations” uses the phrase “invisible hand” precisely once. In the 1,231-page Bantam edition, it appears on Page 572.
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