Adam Smith summarized: everyone sucks

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


In their mad ambition, they try to rule the world (see Davos): “…the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind” (Book 4, Ch. 3, p. 621). Short of the world they try to rule countries: companies of merchants (the British and the Dutch East India Companies) grew immensely rich by mismanaging and exploiting India and Indonesia: “The government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatever” (Book 4, Ch. 7, p. 722).

And their profits are often a price for general impoverishment: “Have the exorbitant profits of the merchants of Cadiz and Lisbon augmented the capital of Spain and Portugal? Have they alleviated the poverty, have they promoted the industry of those two beggarly countries?” (Book 4, Ch. 7, p. 779).

Businessmen depend on lobbyists and politicians. Those who support them (read K Street and Mass Avenue in Washington DC) will be praised: “The Member of Parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance” (Book 4, Ch.2, p. 595).

Those who try to oppose their drive for monopoly profits will be destroyed:

“If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services can protect him from the most infamous abuse and detraction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists. (Book 4, Ch. 2, p. 592).

Are “do-gooders” and religious orders (read NGOs) any better? They are treated with implacable irony: “The late resolution of the Quakers in Pennsylvania to set at liberty all their negro slaves, may satisfy us that their number cannot be very great” (Book 3, Ch 2, p. 496); or “I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it” (Book 3, Ch. 2, p. 572).

Adventurers and soldiers who conquered colonies attracted by the promise of quick gain (see military “contractors” today) “commit[ed] with impunity every sort of injustice in those remote countries” (Book 3, Ch. 7, p. 795). Led by their selfishness they destroyed a great occasion for the beneficial encounter of two civilizations: “The savage injustice of the Europeans rendered an event, which ought to have been beneficial to all, ruinous and destructive to several of those unfortunate countries” (Book 4, Ch. 1, p. 563).

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