Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations


Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations


Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was an important milestone in the development of capitalism in early modern Europe. His publication advocated for free trade, open markets, and competition, which he argued were essential for a country’s economy to flourish (Wiesner-Hanks, 203).

Beginning in the seventeenth century, England adopted “new crops and crop rotation schedules, altered patterns of landownership, selective breeding of stock and plants, and increases in the amount of land under cultivation” (Wiesner-Hanks, 456). As a result, its agricultural yield was higher and farming more efficient. Similar efficiency was also present in the Netherlands, where urbanization, as well as technological and agricultural changes, were ramping up (Wiesner-Hanks, 457). Economic efficiency did not increase in every country, but England and the Netherlands were leaders in increased output and utilization of resources.

England’s expanding economy also reflected Adam Smith’s idea of specialization, in which certain groups of society made certain products or provided certain services for sale (Urban Achievement). Thus, Smith’s views represent a move away from subsistence farming to an increasingly specialized and interdependent economy.

Capitalist ideas took root in America as well as in England. The sugar trade, in which England took part, ferried slaves across the Atlantic as a source of cheap labor; landowners in the New World exploited slave labor and the sugar plantations as demand for sugar rose in Europe, particularly in England (Moore). As trade became increasingly globalized, so did Smith’s free-market ideas.


Adam Smith


Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. University of Edinburgh.

Jason W. Moore, “Sugar and the Expansion of the Early Modern World-Economy,” Review, Research Foundation of State University of New York, 2000.

Urban Achievement in Early Modern Europe, ed. Patrick O’Brien. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. Early Modern Europe: 1450-1789. Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.




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Free re-use (CC BY 3.0).


Adam Smith, “Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations,” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed March 25, 2023,

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