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HISTG100 Adam Smith and the State

Professor Julian Hoppit
15 credits

The Wealth of Nations is one of the best-known works of economics. But over half the book is about how governments, the British government especially, influence economic life. This was all the more important because Smith published in the same year as the American Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, the early stirrings of the industrial revolution in Britain were also beginning to pose very different opportunities and problems that brought into question previous assumptions about the role of the state in economic life.

This course is particularly based upon a close reading of parts of The Wealth of Nations relating to state action to uncover what and why Smith argued as he did, and the originality and coherence of his arguments. The last class considers an example of the afterlife of Smith’s ideas about the state.

Assessment one 4,000 word essay, the title to be developed by the student, but needing to be approved by the teacher.

The best scholarly edition of Smith’s works is the Glasgow edition. All are freely available online via the Online Library of Liberty:


1. Introduction: Adam Smith’s life, works and reputation

Knud Haakonssen, ed. The Cambridge companion to Adam Smith (2006)

Nicholas Phillipson, Adam Smith: an enlightened life (2010)

D. D. Raphael, Adam Smith (1985)

I. S. Ross, The life of Adam Smith (1995; 2nd edn. 2010)

Emma Rothschild, Economic sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment (2001)

Donald Winch, ‘Adam Smith’, Oxford dictionary of national biography – online

2. Just before Adam Smith

Class reading

David Hume, ‘Of commerce’ (1752), in his Essays moral, political and literary – Online Library of Liberty

Joseph Massie, A representation concerning the knowledge of commerce as a national concern; pointing out the proper means of promoting such knowledge in this kingdom (1760)

[Joseph Massie], An essay on the many advantages accruing to the community from the superior neatness, conveniences, decorations and embellishments of great and capital cities (1754), 19-20

Further reading

Joyce Appleby, Economic thought and ideology in seventeenth-century England (1978)

Roger E. Backhouse, The Penguin history of economics (2002), chs. 4-6

M. Blaug, ‘Economic theory and economic history in Britain, 1650-1776’, Past and Present, 28 (1964)

A. Finkelstein, Harmony and balance: an intellectual history of seventeenth-century English economic thought (2000)

Istvan Hont, The jealousy of trade: international competition and the nation-state in historical perspective (2005)

Istvan Hont & Michael Ignatieff, eds. Wealth and virtue: the shaping of political economy in the Scottish enlightenment (1983)

J. Hoppit, ‘The contexts and contours of British economic literature, 1660-1760’, Historical Journal, 49.1 (2006)

Terence Hutchison, Before Adam Smith: the emergence of political economy, 1662-1776 (1988)

E. A. Johnson, Predecessors of Adam Smith (1937)

W. Letwin, The origins of scientific economics: English economic thought, 1660-1776 (1963)

Lars Magnusson, Mercantilism: the shaping of an economic language (1994)

R. L. Meek, ed. Precursors of Adam Smith, 1750-1775 (1973)

J. G. A. Pocock, ‘The political limits to premodern economics’, in John Dunn, ed. The economic limits to premodern politics (1990)

Mary Poovey, A history of the modern fact: problems in knowledge in the sciences of wealth and society (1998)

J. A. Schumpeter, History of economic analysis (1954)

Jacob Viner, Studies in the theory of international trade (1937)

Donald Winch, Adam Smith’s politics: an essay in historiographic revision (1978)

3. The wealth of nation and the mercantile system

Class reading

Smith, Wealth of nations, book IV, ch. 1 [vol. 1, pp. 428-51]

Thomas Mun, England’s treasure by forraign trade (1664), chs. 2-3

Carew Reynell, The true English interest (1674), preface and sections 1-4

Gustav Schmoller, The mercantile system and its historical significance (1896), pp. 48-50

Further reading

A. W. Coats, ‘Adam Smith and the mercantile system’, in A. S. Skinner & T. Wilson, eds. Essays on Adam Smith (1975), 218-36

D. C. Coleman, ed. Revisions in mercantilism (1969)

D. C. Coleman, ‘Mercantilism revisited’, Historical Journal, 23 (1980), 773-91

Ralph Davis, ‘The rise of protection in England, 1689-1786’, Economic History Review, 19 (1966), 306-17

L. A. Harper, The English navigation laws: a seventeenth-century experiment in social engineering (1939)

T. J. Hochstrasser, ‘Physiocracy and the politics of laissez-faire’, in The Cambridge history of eighteenth-century political thought, ed. Mark Goldie & Richard Wokler (2006)

John J. McCusker & Russell R. Menard, The economy of British America, 1607-1789 (1985), ch. 2

Lars Magnusson, Mercantilism: the shaping of an economic language (1994)

Emma Rothschild, ‘Adam Smith and the invisible hand’, American Economic Review, 84.2 (1994), 319-22

Paul Warde, ‘The idea of improvement, c.1520-1700’, in Richard Hoyle, ed., Custom, improvement and the landscape in early modern Britain (2011), 127-48.

4. The wealth of nations and corn (prices and bounties)

Class reading

Smith, Wealth of nations, book I, ch. XI, section g, paras 17-19, book IV, ch. 5 (vol. 1, 217-18, 505-43)

‘A letter from Governor Pownall to Adam Smith’, in The correspondence of Adam Smith (Online Library of Liberty), 360-6

[Charles Townshend], National thoughts, recommended to the serious attention of the public. With an appendix, shewing the damages arising from a bounty on corn (1751), Appendix (pp. 26-36)

Further reading

D. G. Barnes, A history of the English corn laws, 1660-1846 (1930)

Anna Gambles, ‘Free trade and state formation: the political economy of fisheries policy in Britain and the United Kingdom circa 1780-1850’, Journal of British Studies, 89.2 (2000)

Bob Harris, ‘Scotland’s herring fisheries and the prosperity of the nation, c. 1660-1760’, Scottish Historical Review, 79.1 (2000)

J. Hoppit, ‘Bounties, the economy and the state in Britain, 1689-1800’, in P. Gauci, ed. Regulating the British economy, 1650-1850 (2011)

A. H. John, ‘English agricultural improvement and grain exports, 1660-1765’, in D. C. Coleman & A. H. John, eds. Trade, government and economy in pre-industrial England (1976)

R. D. Sheldon, ‘Practical economics in eighteenth-century England: Charles Smith on the grain trade and the corn laws, 1756-72’, Historical Research, 81 (2008)

E. P. Thompson, ‘The moral economy of the English crowd in the eighteenth century’, Past and Present, 50 (1971), 76-136

Jacob Viner, Studies in the theory of international trade (1937), 69-72

5. The wealth of nations, colonies and the American revolution

Class reading

Smith, Wealth of nations, book IV, ch. 7 (vol. 2, 556-641)

Smith, Correspondence, Appendix B, 377-85

Edmund Burke, ‘Speech on conciliation with the colonies’, 22 March 1775, xxx

Board of Trade, ‘Some considerations relating to the present condition of the plantations; with proposals for a better regulation of them’ (1749?), in J. P. Green, ed. Great Britain and the American colonies, 1606-1763 (1970), 267-71

Further reading

Bernard Semmel, The rise of free trade imperialism (1970)

A. S. Skinner, ‘Adam Smith and America: the political economy of conflict’, in R. B. Sher & J. R. Smitten, eds. Scotland and America in the age of Enlightenment (1990), ???

D. Stevens, ‘Adam Smith and the colonial disturbances’, in Andrew S. Skinner & Thomas Wilson, eds. Essays on Adam Smith (1975), 202-17

Donald Winch, The classical economists and the colonies (1965)

6. The wealth of nations and interest groups

Class reading

Smith, Wealth of nations, book I, ch. 10, section c, para. 26-32 (144-6); I, 10, p, 10 (266-7); IV, 8 (642-62)

Further reading

Robert J. Bennett, Local business voice: the history of chambers of commerce in Britain, Ireland, and revolutionary America, 1760-2011 (2011)

D. C. Coleman, ‘Adam Smith, businessmen and the mercantile system in Britain’, History of European Ideas, 9 (1988), 161-70

W. A. Galston, ‘Political feasibility: interests and power’ in M. Moran, M. Rein & R. E. Goodin, eds. The Oxford handbook of public policy (2006), 543-56

J. A. W. Gunn, ‘“Interest will not lie”: a seventeenth-century political maxim’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 29 (1968), 551-64

Albert Hirschman, The passions and the interests (1977)

A. G. Olson, Making the empire work: London and American interest groups, 1690-1790 (1992)

A. J. O’Shaughnessy, ‘The formation of a commercial lobby: the West India interest, British colonial policy and the American revolution’, Historical Journal, 40 ((1997), 71-95

Charles Wilson, ‘Government policy and private interest in modern English history’, in his Economic history and the historian: collected essays (1969), ch. 9

7. The wealth of nations and public works

Class reading

Smith, Wealth of nations, book V, chap. 1, parts 1, 2, and 3 article 1st (689-758)

Further reading

A. J. Durie, The Scottish linen industry in the eighteenth century (1979)

Julian Hoppit, ‘The nation, the state and the first industrial revolution’, Journal of British Studies, 50.2 (2011), 307-31

E. Magennis, ‘Coal, corn and canals: [the Irish] parliament and the dispersal of public moneys, 1695-1772’, Parliamentary History, 20.1 (2001), 71-86

Rosalind Mitchison, ‘Patriotism and national identity in eighteenth century Scotland’, in T. W. Moody, ed. Nationality and the pursuit of national independence (1978), 73-95

John Robertson, ‘Scottish political economy beyond the civic tradition: government and economic development in the Wealth of Nations’, History of Political Thought, 4 (1983), 451-82

N. Rosenberg, ‘Some institutional aspects of the Wealth of Nations’, Journal of Political Economy, 68 (1960), 557-70

George J. Stigler, ‘Smith’s travels on the ship of state’, in Andrew S. Skinner & Thomas Wilson, eds. Essays on Adam Smith (1975), 237-46

Jeffrey T. Young, ‘Unintended order and intervention in Adam Smith’s theory of the role of the state’, in Steven G. Medema & Peter Boettke, eds. The role of government in the history of economic thought (2005), 91-119

8. The wealth of nations and public debts

Class reading

Smith, Wealth of nations, book V, chap 2, article 4th, and chap. 3 (867-947)

David Hume, ‘Of public credit’, in his Essays, moral, political and literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (1987) – Online Liberty Fund

Further reading

John Brewer, The sinews of power: war, money and the English state, 1688-1783 (1989)

Istvan Hont, The jealousy of trade: international competition and the nation-state in historical perspective (2005), ch. 4

Julian Hoppit, ‘Checking the leviathan, 1688-1832’, in Donald Winch and Patrick K. O’Brien, eds. The political economy of British historical experience, 1688-1914 (2002),

T. Peacock, ‘The treatment of the principles of public finance in The wealth of nations’, in Andrew S. Skinner & Thomas Wilson, eds. Essays on Adam Smith (1975), 553-67

Michael Sonenscher, Before the deluge: public debt, inequality and the intellectual origins of the French revolution (2007)

D. Winch, ‘The political economy of public finance in the “long” eighteenth century’, in J. Maloney, ed. Debts and deficits: an historical perspective (1998)

9. Adam Smith and the growth of a free trade nation, 1776-1846

Class reading

Not sure yet.

Further reading

Kenneth E. Carpenter, The dissemination of The wealth of nations in French and in France, 1776-1843 (2002)

Boyd Hilton, ‘Peel: a reappraisal’, Historical Journal 22 (1979), 585-614

A. C. Howe, ‘Free trade and the City of London, c. 1820-1870’, History, 77.4 (1992), 391-410

Anthony Howe, Free trade and liberal England, 1846-1946 (1997)

T. Hutchison, On revolutions and progress in economic knowledge (1978), ch. 1

Douglas A. Irwin, ‘Political economy and Peel’s repeal of the corn laws’, Economics and Politics, 1.1 (1989), 41-59.

Salim Rashid, ‘Adam Smith’s rise to fame: a re-examination of the evidence’, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, 23.1 (1982), 64-85

Ian S. Ross, ed. On The wealth of nations: contemporary responses to Adam Smith (1998)

R. B. Sher, ‘Early editions of Adam Smith’s books in Britain and Ireland, 1759-1804’, in A critical bibliography of Adam Smith, ed. Keith Tribe (2002)

Richard F. Teichgraeber, III, ‘“Less abused than I had reason to expect”: the reception of The wealth of nations in Britain, 1776-1790’, Historical Journal, 30.2 (1987), 337-64

Frank Trentman, Free trade nation: consumption, civil society and commerce in modern Britain (2008)

Jacob Viner, ‘Adam Smith and laissez faire’, in J. M. Clark et al, eds. Adam Smith, 1776-1926 (1928), ???; reprinted in Viner, Essays on the intellectual history of economics, ed. Douglas A. Irwin (1991), 85-113

Kirk Willis, ‘The role in parliament of the economic ideas of Adam Smith, 1776-1800’, History of Political Economy, 11.4 (1979), 505-44

D. Winch, Riches and poverty: an intellectual history of political economy, 1750–1834 (1996)

D. Winch, ‘A very amusing book about old times’, Contributions to the history of economic thought, ed. A. Murphy and R. Prendergast (2000), ???

10. Adam Smith and politics after 1945

Class reading

Not sure yet.

Further reading

R. E. Backhouse, ‘History of economics, economics and economic history in Britain, 1724-2000’, European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 11 (2004)

R. E. Backhouse, ‘The rise of free market economics: economists and the role of the state since 1970’, in Steven G. Medema & Peter Boettke, eds. The role of government in the history of economic thought (2005), 355-92

John D. Bishop, ‘Adam Smith’s invisible hand argument’, Journal of Business Ethics, 14.3 (1995), 165-80

Stephen Copley, ‘Introduction: reading Adam Smith’, in Stephen Copley & Kathryn Sutherland, eds. Adam Smith’s Wealth of nations: new interdisciplinary essays (1992), 1-22

Michael Fry, ed. Adam Smith’s legacy: his place in the development of modern economics (1992)

M. O. Furner and B. Supple, ‘Ideas, institutions, and the state in the United States and Britain: an introduction’, in their eds. The state and economic knowledge: the American and British experiences (1990)

R. M. Hartwell, History of the Mont Pèlerin Society (1995)

Irving Kristol, ‘Adam Smith and the spirit of capitalism’, in The great ideas today, ed. Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler (1976), reprinted in Kristol, Reflections of a neoconservative (1983)

Charles Moore, ‘Margaret Thatcher and capitalism’, The Adam Smith Lecture, 2012 at http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/114620

John Quiggin, Zombie economics: how dead ideas still walk among us (2010)

W. W. Rostow, The stages of economic growth: a non-communist manifesto (1965)

Page last modified on 25 feb 15 10:35 by Joanna Fryer