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Quotes of the day: Adam Smith
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Published Thursday, June 04, 2015 @ 9:00 AM EDT
Jun 04 2015

Adam Smith (June 5, 1723 - July 17, 1790) was a Scottish moral philosopher, pioneer of political economy, and key Scottish Enlightenment figure. Smith is best known for two classic works: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics. Smith is cited as the "father of modern economics" and is still among the most influential thinkers in the field of economics today. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)

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A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more, otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation.

A merchant, it has been said very properly, is not necessarily the citizen of any particular country.

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

All registers which, it is acknowledged, ought to be kept secret, ought certainly never to exist.

As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.

As to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbour, or what comes to the same thing, as our neighbour is capable of loving us.

But bounty and hospitality very seldom lead to extravagance; though vanity almost always does.

By nature a philosopher is not in genius and disposition half so different from a street porter, as a mastiff is from a greyhound.

Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.

Corn is a necessary, silver is only a superfluity.

Every man is, no doubt, by nature, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and right that it should be so.

Every tax, however, is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery but of liberty. It denotes that he is a subject to government, indeed, but that, as he has some property, he cannot himself be the property of a master.

Fear is in almost all cases a wretched instrument of government, and ought in particular never to be employed against any order of men who have the smallest pretensions to independency.

For a very small expence the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education.

Goods can serve many other purposes besides purchasing money, but money can serve no other purpose besides purchasing goods.

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.

In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for.

In public, as well as in private expences, great wealth may, perhaps, frequently be admitted as an apology for great folly.

In the languor of disease and the weariness of old age, the pleasures of the vain and empty distinctions of greatness disappear.

In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him, but the necessity is not so immediate.

It is not for its own sake that men desire money, but for the sake of what they can purchase with it.

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.

It is unjust that the whole of society should contribute towards an expence of which the benefit is confined to a part of the society.

Justice, however, never was in reality administered gratis in any country. Lawyers and attornies, at least, must always be paid by the parties; and, if they were not, they would perform their duty still worse than they actually perform it.

Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.

Monopoly of one kind or another, indeed, seems to be the sole engine of the mercantile system.

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

Nothing but the most exemplary morals can give dignity to a man of small fortune.

Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, on in some contrivance to raise prices.

Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.

The education of the common people requires, perhaps, in a civilized and commercial society, the attention of the public more than that of people of some rank and fortune.

The government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatever.

The great affair, we always find, is to get money.

The great secret of education is to direct vanity to proper objects.

The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities, that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

The tolls for the maintenance of a high road, cannot with any safety be made the property of private persons.

The trade of insurance gives great security to the fortunes of private people, and by dividing among a great many that loss which would ruin an individual, makes it fall light and easy upon the whole society.

The value of money is in proportion to the quantity of the necessaries of life which it will purchase.

The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit a remedy.

The virtue of frugality lies in a middle between avarice and profusion, of which the one consists in an excess, the other in a defect of the proper attention to the objects of self–interest.

The world neither ever saw, nor ever will see, a perfectly fair lottery.

There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people.

They who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.

This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or, at least, neglect persons of poor and mean conditions, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.

Though the principles of the banking trade may appear somewhat abstruse, the practice is capable of being reduced to strict rules. To depart upon any occasion from these rules, in consequence of some flattering speculation of extraordinary gain, is almost always extremely dangerous, and frequently fatal to the banking company which attempts it.

Upstart greatness is everywhere less respected than ancient greatness.

Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.

We may often fulfill all the rules of justice by sitting still and doing nothing.

When the profits of trade happen to be greater than ordinary, over- trading becomes a general error both among great and small dealers.

Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. 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.

Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality.

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(June 5 is also the birthday of John Maynard Keynes and Bill Moyers.)


Categories: Adam Smith, Quotes of the day


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