Adam Smith on Economic Plenty
Nothing is so mortifying as to be obliged to expose our distress to the view of the public, and to feel, that though our situation is open to the eyes of all mankind, no mortal conceives for us the half of what we suffer. Nay, it is chiefly from this regard to the sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty. For to what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world? what is the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, and pre-eminence? Is it to supply the necessities of nature? The wages of the meanest labourer can supply them. We see that they afford him food and clothing, the comfort of a house, and of a family. If we examine his economy with rigour, we should find that he spends a great part of them upon conveniences, which may be regarded as superfluities, and that, upon extraordinary occasions, he can give something even to vanity and distinction. (Italics added.)
I’m working my way through TMS for a speech I’m giving in December. It’s hard slogging but worthwhile. I found the above passage this morning and was struck by it. When we economists compare standards of living in the middle of the 18th century, when Adam Smith wrote TMS, with living standards today, we talk about how incredibly wealthy over 90% of Americans and over 50% of world inhabitants are by comparison with 260 years ago. But even in 1759, Smith thought even low-paid laborers were doing well.
Makes ya think.