I don’t want to let 2023 pass without paying tribute to arguably the most important birthday three hundred years ago: that of economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. Smith wrote two important books: his lesser-known The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) published in 1759 and his well-known An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776.

Both were important but The Wealth of Nations (WN) was much more important. While it is an exaggeration to say that Smith was the first economist, it is no exaggeration to say that he was the most important up to his time. His belief in the labor theory of value, which so misled Karl Marx, was shown, in the marginal revolution of 1870, to be wrong. But a list of his insights that still stand is extensive. Page through WN and you will find many important thoughts: on the division of labor, what’s wrong with mercantilism and protectionism, the folly of industrial policy, and many more.

These are the opening two paragraphs of my last Defining Ideas article for 2023, “The Profound Wisdom–and Humanitarianism–of Adam Smith,” Defining Ideas, December 20, 2023.

There was so much more I wanted to write. But I didn’t want to go badly over my 2,000-word limit.

Read the whole thing.