The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 22, 1997
Adam Smith Without Arrogance
Unfortunately space did not allow James K. Glassman to report Adam Smith's complete 1783 quote on consumption ["Why We Trade," op-ed, July 1]. Mr. Glassman quoted Smith saying, "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production." Smith continued "and the interest of the producers ought to be attended to, only in so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer."
Mr. Glassman quoted Smith, saying, "In a mercantilist [or protectionist] system, the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer." Smith then said, "It cannot be very difficult to determine who have been the contrivers of this whole mercantile system; not the consumers, we may believe, whose interest has been entirely neglected; but the producers, whose interest has been so carefully attended to; and among this latter class our merchants and manufacturers have been by far the principle architects."
Max Lerner's 1938 forward to "The Wealth of Nations" commented on "the curious paradox of Smith's position in history; to have fashioned his system of thought in order to blast away the institutional obstructions from the past, and bring a greater degree of economic freedom and therefore a greater total wealth for all the people in a nation; and yet to have his doctrine result in the glorification of irresponsibility . . . . A reading of Adam Smith's work and a study of its place in the history of ideas should be one of the best solvents for smugness and intellectual absolutism."
As Mr. Glassman suggest, today's merchants and manufacturers and their political allies often contrive to recreate many of the special protections and irresponsibilities Smith sought to eliminate.
James S. Turner