Ilustración Escocesa

Obras principales

La teoría de los sentimientos Morales

La teoría de la Riqueza de las Naciones

Ideas principales


La mano invisible


Enlaces relacionados

Why Adam Smith is important Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a Scottish philosopher and economist who is best known as the author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth Of Nations (1776), one of the most influential books ever written.

The old view of economics In Smith’s day, people saw national wealth in terms of a country’s stock of gold and silver. Importing goods from abroad was seen as damaging because it meant that this wealth must be given up to pay for them; exporting goods was seen as good because these precious metals came back.

So countries maintained a vast network of controls to prevent this metal wealth draining out — taxes on imports, subsidies to exporters, and protection for domestic industries. The same protectionism ruled at home too. Cities prevented artisans from other towns moving in to ply their trade; manufacturers and merchants petitioned the king for protective monopolies; labour-saving devices were banned as a threat to existing producers.

The productivity of free exchange Smith showed that this vast mercantilist’ edifice was folly. He argued that in a free exchange, both sides became better off. Quite simply, nobody would trade if they expected to lose from it. The buyer profits, just as the seller does. Imports are just as valuable to us as our exports are to others.

Because trade benefits both sides, said Smith, it increases our prosperity just as surely as do agriculture or manufacture. A nation’s wealth is not the quantity of gold and silver in its vaults, but the total of its production and commerce — what today we would call gross national product.

The Wealth of Nations deeply influenced the politicians of the time and provided the intellectual foundation of the great nineteenth-century era of free trade and economic expansion. Even today the common sense of free trade is accepted worldwide, whatever the practical difficulties of achieving it.

Social order based on freedom Smith had a radical, fresh understanding of how human societies actually work. He realised that social harmony would emerge naturally as human beings struggled to find ways to live and work with each other. Freedom and self-interest need not produce chaos, but — as if guided by an invisible hand’ — order and concord. And as people struck bargains with each other, the nation’s resources would be drawn automatically to the ends and purposes that people valued most highly.

So a prospering social order did not need to be controlled by kings and ministers. It would grow, organically, as a product of human nature. It would grow best in an open, competitive marketplace, with free exchange and without coercion.

The Wealth Of Nations was therefore not just a study of economics but a survey of human social psychology: about life, welfare, political institutions, the law, and morality.

The psychology of ethics It was not The Wealth Of Nations which first made Smith’s reputation, but a book on ethics, The Theory Of Moral Sentiments. Once again, Smith looks to social psychology to discover the foundation of human morality. Human beings have a natural sympathy’ for others. That enables them to understand how to moderate their behaviour and preserve harmony. And this is the basis of our moral ideas and moral actions.

Self-interest and virtue Some people wonder how the self-interest that drives Smith’s economic system can be squared with the sympathy’ that drive his ethics. Here is his answer:

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 other words, human nature is complex. We are self-interested, but we also like to help others too. Smith’s books are complementary: they show how self-interested human beings can live together peacefully (in the moral sphere) and productively (in the economic).

The Wealth Of Nations is no endorsement of economic greed, as sometimes caricatured. Self-interest may drive the economy, but that is a force for good — provided there is genuinely open competition and no coercion. And it is the poor that economic and social freedom benefits most.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments Eamonn Butler’s Condensed Wealth of Nations, which includes a section on The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is available to download here. Main themes of the book The Theory Of Moral Sentiments was a real scientific breakthrough. It shows that our moral ideas and actions are a product of our very nature as social creatures. It argues that this social psychology is a better guide to moral action than is reason. It identifies the basic rules of prudence and justice that are needed for society to survive, and explains the additional, beneficent, actions that enable it to flourish.

Self-interest and sympathy. As individuals, we have a natural tendency to look after ourselves. That is merely prudence. And yet as social creatures, explains Smith, we are also endowed with a natural sympathy — today we would say empathy — towards others. When we see others distressed or happy, we feel for them — albeit less strongly. Likewise, others seek our empathy and feel for us. When their feelings are particularly strong, empathy prompts them to restrain their emotions so as to bring them into line with our, less intense reactions. Gradually, as we grow from childhood to adulthood, we each learn what is and is not acceptable to other people. Morality stems from our social nature.

Justice and beneficence. So does justice. Though we are self-interested, we again have to work out how to live alongside others without doing them harm. That is an essential minimum for the survival of society. If people go further and do positive good — beneficence — we welcome it, but cannot demand such action as we demand justice.

Virtue. Prudence, justice, and beneficence are important. However, the ideal must be that any impartial person, real or imaginary — what Smith calls an impartial spectator — would fully empathise with our emotions and actions. That requires self-command, and in this lies true virtue.

The argument of the book Morality, says Smith, is not something we have to calculate. It is natural, built into us as social beings. When we see people happy or sad, we feel happy or sad too. We derive pleasure when people do things we approve of, and distress when we believe they are doing harm.

Of course, we do not feel others’ emotions as strongly as they do. And through our natural empathy with others, we learn that an excess of anger, or grief, or other emotions distresses them. So we try to curb our emotions to bring them into line with those of others. In fact, we aim to temper them to the point where any typical, disinterested person — an impartial spectator, says Smith — would empathise with us.

Likewise, when we show concern for other people, we know that an impartial spectator would approve, and we take pleasure from it. The impartial spectator is only imaginary, but still guides us: and through experience we gradually build up a system of behavioural rules — morality.

Punishments and rewards have an important social function. We approve and reward acts that benefit society, and disapprove and punish acts that harm it. Nature has equipped us with appetites and aversions that promote the continued existence of our species and our society. It is almost as if an invisible hand were guiding what we do.

Justice. For society to survive, there must be rules to present its individual members harming each other. As Smith comments, it is possible for a society of robbers and murderers to exist — but only insofar as they abstain from robbing and murdering each other. These are the rules we call justice.

If people do not help others when they could, or fail to return a good deed, we may call them uncharitable or ungrateful. But we do not punish people to force them to do good: only for acts of real or intended harm. We force them only to obey the rules of justice, because society could not otherwise survive.

Conscience. But nature has given us something even more immediate than punishment, namely our own self-criticism. We are impartial spectators, not only of other people’s actions, thanks to conscience. It is nature’s way of reminding us that other people are important too.

Moral rules. In the process of making such judgements on a countless number of actions, we gradually formulate rules of conduct. We do not then have to think out each new situation afresh: we now have moral standards to guide us.

This constancy is beneficial to the social order. By following our conscience, we end up, surely but unintentionally, promoting the happiness of mankind. Human laws, with their punishments and rewards, may aim at the same results; but they can never be as consistent, immediate, or effective as conscience and the rules of morality engineered by nature.

Virtues. Smith ends The Theory Of Moral Sentiments by defining the character of a truly virtuous person. Such a person, he suggests, would embody the qualities of prudence, justice, beneficence and self-command.

Prudence moderates the individual’s excesses and as such is important for society. It is respectable, if not endearing. Justice limits the harm we do to others. It is essential for the continuation of social life. Beneficence improves social life by prompting us to promote the happiness of others. It cannot be demanded from anyone, but it is always appreciated. And self-command moderates our passions and reins in our destructive actions.

Freedom and nature, Smith concludes, are a surer guide to the creation of a harmonious, functioning society than the supposed reason of philosophers and visionaries.

The Wealth of Nations Eamonn Butler’s Condensed Wealth of Nations is available to download here. The book’s broad themes The first theme in The Wealth of Nations is that regulations on commerce are ill-founded and counter-productive. The prevailing view was that gold and silver was wealth, and that countries should boost exports and resist imports in order to maximize this metal wealth. Smith’s radical insight was that a nation’s wealth is really the stream of goods and services that it creates. Today, we would call it gross national product. And the way to maximise it, he argued, was not to restrict the nation’s productive capacity, but to set it free.

Another central theme is that this productive capacity rests on the division of labour and the accumulation of capital that it makes possible. Huge efficiencies can be gained by breaking production down into many small tasks, each undertaken by specialist hands. This leaves producers with a surplus that they can exchange with others, or use to invest in new and even more efficient labour-saving machinery.

Smith’s third theme is that a country’s future income depends upon this capital accumulation. The more that is invested in better productive processes, the more wealth will be created in the future. But if people are going to build up their capital, they must be confident that it will be secure from theft. The countries that prosper are those that grow their capital, manage it well, and protect it.

A fourth theme is that this system is automatic. Where things are scarce, people are prepared to pay more for them: there is more profit in supplying them, so producers invest more capital to produce them. Where there is a glut, prices and profits are low, producers switch their capital and enterprise elsewhere. Industry thus remains focused on the nation’s most important needs, without the need for central direction.

But the system is automatic only when there is free trade and competition. When governments grant subsidies or monopolies to favoured producers, or shelter them behind tariff walls, they can charge higher prices. The poor suffer most from this, facing higher costs for the necessities that they rely on.

A further theme of The Wealth Of Nations is that competition and free exchange are under threat from the monopolies, tax preferences, controls, and other privileges that producers extract from the government authorities.

For all these reasons, Smith believes that government itself must be limited. Its core functions are maintaining defence, keeping order, building infrastructure and promoting education. It should keep the market economy open and free, and not act in ways that distort it.

Production and exchange The Wealth Of Nations begins with Smith explaining production and exchange, and their contribution to national income. Using the example of a pin factory, Smith shows how specialisation can boost human productivity enormously. By specialising, people can use their talents, or acquire skill. And they can employ labour-saving machinery to boost production. Then they exchange those specialist products, spreading the benefits of specialisation across the whole population.

How far and how fast the benefit spreads depends on how wide and efficient is the market. Often, employers try to rig markets in their own interests, and call on governments to help them. But the best interests of ordinary people are served if policymakers avoid such interventions and promote open competition.

The accumulation of capital Smith goes on to say that building up capital is an essential condition for economic progress. By saving some of what we produce instead of immediately consuming it, we can invest in new, dedicated, labour-saving equipment. The more we invest, the more efficient our production becomes. It is a virtuous circle.

Thanks to this growth of capital, prosperity becomes an expanding pie: everyone becomes richer. But capital can be lost, through mistakes, or theft, or profligate government spending. Governments should aim to allow people to build up capital in the confidence that they will enjoy its fruits, and should be aware that their own taxation and spending will eat into the nation’s productive capital.

Economic policy Just as individuals gain from specialisation, says Smith, so do nations. There is no point trying to grow grapes in Scotland, when they grow so plentifully in France. Countries should do what they are best at, and trade their products. Restrictions on international trade inevitably make both sides poorer. Legislators think too much of themselves when they believe that by intervening, they can direct production better than the market can.

The role of government Smith is critical of government and officialdom, but is no champion of laissez-faire. He believes that the market economy he has described can function and deliver its benefits only when its rules are observed — when property is secure and contracts are honoured. The maintenance of justice and the rule of law is therefore vital.

So is defence. If our property can be stolen by a foreign power, we are no better off than if our own neighbours steal it. And Smith sees a role for education and public works too, insofar as these collective projects make it easier for trade and markets to operate.

Where tax has to be raised for these purposes, it should be raised in proportion to people’s ability to pay, it should be at set rates rather than arbitrary, it should be easy to pay, and it should aim to have minimal side effects. Governments should avoid taxing capital, which is essential to the nation’s productivity. Since most of their spending is for current consumption, they should also avoid building up large debts, with draw capital away from future production.

The Wealth of Nations today Smith’s world was very different to ours, of course, before the Industrial Revolution changed everything. At yet, by showing how the freedom and security to work, trade, save and invest promotes our prosperity, without the need for a directing authority, The Wealth Of Nations still leaves us with a powerful set of solutions to the worst economic problems that the world can throw at us. The free economy is an adaptable and flexible system, which can withstand the shock of the new, and cope with whatever the future brings.

ON THE DIVISION OF LABOUR… It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people. The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter I, p. 22, para. 10.

It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy…What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV Chapter II, pp. 456-7, paras. 11-12.

…AND TRADE SPECIALISATION By means of glasses, hotbeds, and hotwalls, very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine too can be made of them at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries. Would it be a reasonable law to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of claret and burgundy in Scotland? The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, p. 458, para. 15.

ON COMPETITION… In general, if any branch of trade, or any division of labour, be advantageous to the public, the freer and more general the competition, it will always be the more so. The Wealth Of Nations, Book II, Chapter II, p.329, para. 106.

Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV Chapter VIII, v. ii, p. 660, para. 49.

…AND THE DISTORTION OF TRADE People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices…. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies, much less to render them necessary. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV Chapter VIII, p. 145, para. c27.

A regulation which obliges all those of the same trade in a particular town to enter their names and places of abode in a public register, facilitates such assemblies…. A regulation which enables those of the same trade to tax themselves in order to provide for their poor, their sick, their widows and orphans…renders such assemblies necessary. An incorporation not only renders them necessary, but makes the act of the majority binding upon the whole. In a free trade, an effectual combination cannot be established but by the unanimous consent of every single trader, and it cannot last longer than every single trader continues of the same mind. The majority of a corporation can enact a bye-law, with proper penalties, which will limit the competition more effectually and more durably than any voluntary combination whaever. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV Chapter VIII, p. 145, paras. c29-30.

To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers…The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it. The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter XI, Conclusion of the Chapter, p.267, para. 10.

ON GOVERNMENT… It is the highest impertinence and presumption… in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense… They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will. The Wealth Of Nations, Book II, Chapter III, p.346, para. 36.

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, p. 456, para. 10.

…TAXATION… There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people. The Wealth Of Nations, Book V Chapter II Part II, Appendix to Articles I&II, p. 861, para. 12.

The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities… The Wealth Of Nations, Book V Chapter II Pt II, v. ii, p. 825, para. 3.

The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of payment, the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor, and to every other person… The Wealth Of Nations, Book V Chapter II Pt II, p. 825, para. 4.

Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay… The Wealth Of Nations, Book V Chapter II Pt II, p. 826, para. 5.

Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible, over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state… The Wealth Of Nations, Book V Chapter II Pt II, p. 826, para. 6.

The proprietor of stock is necessarily a citizen of the world, and is not necessarily attached to any particular country. He would be apt to abandon the country in which he was exposed to a vexatious inquisition, in order to be assessed to a burdensome tax, and would remove his stock to some other country where he could either carry on his business, or enjoy his fortune more at his ease. The Wealth Of Nations, Book V, Chapter II, Article II, pp. 848-9. para. f. 8

…AND SUBSIDIES The bounty to the white-herring fishery is a tonnage bounty; and is proportioned to the burden of the ship, not to her diligence or success in the fishery; and it has, I am afraid, been too common for vessels to fit out for the sole purpose of catching, not the fish, but the bounty. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter V, p. 520, para 32.

ON IMPORT CONTROLS As a rich man is likely to be a better customer to the industrious people in his neighbourhood than a poor, so is likewise a rich nation. [Trade restrictions,] by aiming at the impoverishment of all our neighbours, tend to render that very commerce insignificant and contemptible. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter III, Part II, p.495, para. c11.

ON INCENTIVES… Public services are never better performed than when their reward comes in consequence of their being performed, and is proportioned to the diligence employed in performing them. The Wealth Of Nations, Book V, Chapter 1, Part II, p. 719, para. b20.

…AND PERVERSE INCENTIVES It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does, or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest…either to neglect it altogether, or…to perform it in [a] careless and slovenly a manner… The Wealth Of Nations, Book V, Chapter I, Part III, Article II, p. 760, para. f7.

ON JUSTICE… If [justice] is removed, the great, the immense fabric of human society, that fabric which to raise and support seems in this world if I may say so has the peculiar and darling care of Nature, must in a moment crumble into atoms. The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, Part II Section II Chapter III, p. 86, para.4.

Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. Lecture in 1755, quoted in Dugald Stewart, Account Of The Life And Writings Of Adam Smith LLD, Section IV, 25.

…and human empathy

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. The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, Part I, Section I, Chapter I, p. 9, para.1.

On the drive to improve…

The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter V, Digression on the Corn Trade, p. 540, para. b 43.

…THE INVISIBLE HAND… [The rich] consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity…they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, Part IV, Chapter I, pp.184-5, para. 10.

Every individual… neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, p. 456, para. 9.

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. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages. The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter II, pp. 26-7, para 12.

…AND PLANNING The man of system…is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it… He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, Part VI, Section II, Chapter II, pp. 233-4, para 17.

ON UNIVERSITIES In the university of Oxford, the greater part of the public professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching. The Wealth Of Nations, Book V, Chapter I, Part III, Article II, p. 761, para 8.

The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters. The Wealth Of Nations, Book V, Chapter I, Part III, Article II, p. 764, para. 15.

ON THE DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH… What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. The Wealth Of Nations, Book I Chapter VIII, p.96, para. 36.

…AND THE BENEFITS OF FREEDOM [Without trade restrictions] the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord. Every man…is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest in his own way…. The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty [for which] no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it towards the employments most suitable to the interest of the society. The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter IX, p. 687, para. 51

Adam Smith, es quizá el más famoso economista del mundo, de hecho, es considerado el padre de la economía moderna al ser el autor intelectual de una teoría que combina la historia, la naturaleza humana, la ética y el desarrollo económico de manera ejemplar. Este autor nació en 1723 en la pequeña ciudad escocesa de Kirkcaldy, justo al norte de Edimburgo, y fue el hijo único de un padre que murió pocos meses antes y de una madre que vivió hasta los noventa años.

A los 14 años, Adam Smith obtuvo una beca para estudiar en la Universidad de Glasgow y más tarde otra para la Universidad de Oxford. Fue uno de los filósofos más importantes de su época y pronunció conferencias sobre ética, teología natural, jurisprudencia y economía política. Fue discípulo de Frances Hutcheson, amigo de David Hume y Francois Quesnay, y consta que sus discípulos viajaban de varios países europeos a escuchar sus ideas progresistas sobre la filosofía moral que fue la base de la ética kantiana. Adam Smith es el Economista Notable de esta semana.

La teoría de los sentimientos morales

Aunque Adam Smith era tímido y retraído, fue un excelente profesor y conferencista, querido por colegas y discípulos. En 1759, a los 36 años, publicó el primero de sus dos libros, La Teoría de los sentimientos morales, considerada una obra cumbre y excepcional en la historia intelectual del mundo, que fue aplaudida por David Hume, pese a tensionar su Treatise of Human Nature (1739). Se trata de una obra pionera en la ética y la filosofía moral, que precede a la obra monumental de Immanuel Kant. Por ello no es extraño que Kant dedique siempre palabras generosas a Adam Smith. La importancia de esta obra es el cuestionamiento que hace Smith a la tesis de Thomas Hobbes planteadas en El Leviatán (1651) que considera al hombre un depredador del hombre homo homini lupus, el hombre es el lobo del hombre. Smith se opone a la idea de un hombre inseguro y precario que ve en otro hombre a un competidor con el cual tendrá una guerra a muerte. Para Hobbes, es esta precariedad humana la que obliga la creación del Leviatán, el Estado Político al cual el hombre transfiere su libertad y, por tanto, su capacidad de asesinar. Casi 90 años más tarde, Hume fue muy débil en su Tratado de la Naturaleza Humana. El cambio radical lo hace Smith, quien demuestra que el hombre tiene la facultad de la empatía, lo que permite a un sujeto ponerse en el lugar de otro sujeto. Con esto ofrece una concepción dinámica e histórica de la naturaleza humana, criticando la concepción utilitarista planteada por David Hume, su maestro y amigo.

En 1764, Smith dejó la enseñanza para aceptar un puesto como tutor para el hijo de un duque y pasó varios años en el continente, en particular Francia, tomando contacto con muchos pensadores franceses como Francois Quesney, la figura principal del movimiento conocido como Los Fisiócratas considerada la primera escuela de pensamiento económico. Quesnay es el autor del Tableau economique y el constructor de los esquemas del flujo circular de la renta y el gasto, que ejerció una gran influencia en Smith. A su regreso a Escocia, se retiró a Kirkcaldy y pasó 10 años en el estudio y la escritura, repensando las ideas de los fisiócratas que pensaban que cualquier política que produjera el efecto de ampliar el flujo circular era coherente con el crecimiento económico. La riqueza de las naciones

Este análisis del proceso de crecimiento económico, se encuentra desarrollado en su obra más famosa: Investigación sobre la Naturaleza y Causas de la Riqueza de las Naciones, publicada en 1776, año de la independencia de Estados Unidos, y de la muerte de David Hume. En esta obra Smith continúa su linea antihobbsiana demostrando que el hombre es un ser social que colabora y participa con otros hombres. Temas como la división del trabajo y su clásico ejemplo de la fabricación de alfileres, el origen y uso del dinero, los precios de los bienes, los salarios de los trabajadores, los beneficios de los accionistas, la renta de la tierra y la fluctuación de los valores de la plata y el oro, son analizados en el primero de los cinco libros que componen La riqueza de las naciones. En el Libro II, Smith se aventura en una tesis sobre el Capital y una distinción sobre el trabajo productivo y el trabajo improductivo, tema que retoma Karl Marx en El Capital. En el Libro III traza un relato del desarrollo de Europa desde la caída del Imperio Romano, mientras el Libro IV analiza y critica las políticas comerciales de los países europeos y traza los argumentos en favor del libre comercio. Toda la extensión del Libro V la deja para la recaudación de los tributos, con gran detalle histórico sobre los diferentes métodos de defensa, administración de la justicia, el poder de la Iglesia, el origen y el crecimiento de los ejércitos, y el manejo de la deuda pública en las naciones modernas. Como vemos, Smith aborda una gran variedad de temas económicos, todos de gran relevancia.

El éxito que tuvo esta obra monumental opacó el éxito alcanzado por La teoría de los sentimientos morales, en una brecha que se fue acrecentando con el tiempo. Incluso, en muchos casos, se toma La riqueza de las naciones como la obra central del pensamiento de Smith sin hacer referencia al marco ya existente en La teoría de los sentimientos morales. Este abandono se hace más evidente en las relaciones entre ética y economía que plantea Smith en su primera obra, así como en la necesidad de reconocer la pluralidad de las motivaciones humanas, y las exigencias que pone a la racionalidad.

Un elemento a tomar en cuenta en el análisis de la obra de Smith es la influencia que tuvo el poema alegórico de Bernard de Mandeville La fábula de las abejas, texto que argumentaba que los vicios individuales hacen la prosperidad pública. Este elemento se convierte en uno de los temas centrales de la obra de Smith, quien señala que la motivación para el cambio económico en el mercado no tiene que valerse de ningún otro objetivo que la búsqueda del interés propio. En el pasaje más citado de La riqueza de las naciones, Smith escribe:

No es de la benevolencia del carnicero, el cervecero o el panadero que esperamos nuestra cena, sino de su relación con su propio interés. Nos dirigimos, no a su humanidad sino a su amor propio” En la tradición de la interpretación de Smith como el gurú del egoísmo (como a menudo se le llama), la lectura de sus escritos no parece ir más allá de esas pocas líneas, a pesar de que esta frase da cuenta de un tema concreto como es el intercambio, y nada dice sobre la distribución o la producción. Smith discute el funcionamiento del sistema económico en general, y del mercado en particular, en relación a que los seres humanos no se guían solo por el beneficio propio, pues sostiene que la humanidad, la justicia, la generosidad y el espíritu público, son cualidades centrales para el funcionamiento de la sociedad. La mano invisible

La mano invisible” es una de las ideas centrales de Smith, aunque en su origen no hay una confianza ciega en el mercado: Pero es sólo por su propio provecho que un hombre emplea su capital en apoyo de la industria; por tanto, siempre se esforzará en usarlo en la industria cuyo producto tienda a ser de mayor valor o en intercambiarlo por la mayor cantidad posible de dinero u otros bienes… En esto está, como en otros muchos casos, guiado por una mano invisible para alcanzar un fin que no formaba parte de su intención. Y tampoco es lo peor para la sociedad que esto haya sido así. Al buscar su propio interés, el hombre a menudo favorece el de la sociedad mejor que cuando realmente desea hacerlo. En los tiempos de Adam Smith una de las obras cumbres de la ciencia era los Principios Matemáticos de Isaac Newton (1667). Es Newton el que introduce la idea de mano invisible cuando, al referirse a los astros en el Universo, señala que estos parecen estar ordenados por la mano invisible de Dios”. A Smith le gusta esta idea de una mano invisible” que ordena las actividades en el mercado, pero asegura que nadie puede estar guiado por motivos de rentabilidad pura. Smith está convencido de que para el correcto funcionamiento de una economía de mercado se deben regular sus falencias. Por eso defiende las ideas de la Economía Política que buscan asegurar al Estado los ingresos suficientes para proveer los servicios públicos como la educación gratuita y el alivio a la pobreza.

El tema de la desigualdad y la pobreza es clave para Smith y por eso las políticas económicas deben enmendar esta falla. Smith es plenamente conciente de que una ampliación de la desigualdad puede arrastrar al colapso a la economía de mercado, y por eso que para su correcto funcionamiento el Estado debe garantizar el acceso de todos los agentes económicos a los mecanismos de mercado, sea por la vía de la regulación y por la intervención. Al contrario de las ideas que se han masificado, Smith fue un claro defensor de la estructura institucional y de los valores sociales que trascienden el afán de lucro. Con las introducción de las ideas de una economía de mercado abierta a todos los hombres, Smith logra superar el doloroso conflicto existente entre Estado e individuo. Hace 234 años y en las puertas de la revolución industrial, Smith vislumbró un futuro promisorio para la humanidad donde los temas de la ética y el desarrollo eran indisolubles.


February 9, 2024