9th March 1776

Adam Smith publishes The Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy in June 1723 and is best remembered for his master work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (usually referred to as simply The Wealth of Nations). In it, he defined much of what we might consider modern economies in which the prices of goods and services are regulated by consumers’ willingness to pay – so-called free market economics – and explored the idea of division of labour, in which workers specialise in particular parts of a job and work as a team.

A decade’s work

Published in two parts, The Wealth of Nations was the culmination of ten years’ work, and set out its stall early on, arguing that developed nations, which derived their wealth more from industry than agriculture, had a greater propensity to divide labour along the lines described above, and thus to progress more quickly. However, such specialisation meant that workers were no longer able to entirely care for themselves, since they no longer had the necessary skills to produce their own food, shelter, clothing and so on. Thus, money became the only viable means of exchange: it could be earned through one form of labour and exchanged for another. This could lead to conflict between the workers, who would always want to be paid more, and their bosses, who would always want to pay them less.

Other sections of his extraordinarily comprehensive work concern themselves with interest, stock, rent, long term economic growth, foreign trade and sovereign wealth. Despite being a weighty and technical work, it sold out within six months and was reprinted several times within Smith’s lifetime and beyond. It remains influential today.

Death in Edinburgh

Smith died in Edinburgh in July 1790. On 30 July, the Stamford Mercury, reporting his passing, commented that “we feel too sensibly the loss which the literary world sustains by his death to anticipate by an imperfect paragraph either its regret or its eulogium.”

Smith wasn’t only an author. He was also a tutor, who travelled widely, and a commissioner for customs in Scotland. Despite this, he is said to have regretted at the time of his death that he had not done more with his life. He was buried at Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirkyard, and a plaque was erected in his honour in his home town of Kirkcaldy.



Other events that occured in March

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