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Adam Smith’s hard labour

The more you read Adam Smith, the less plausible he is as a prophet of the free market. Still, it can't be right to call him a proto-Marxist, can it?

By prospect   June 2006

Adam Smith and the Pursuit of Perfect Liberty by James Buchan Profile Books, £14.99

Adam Smith revolutionised economics by arguing that wealth depends not on trade or agriculture but on labour. But Smith was preoccupied with labour in practice as well as theory: he may not have been much good as a Christian, but he was a devoted follower of the religion of hard work. He struggled with depression when studying at Oxford in the 1740s, shut up in his rooms at Balliol. But once he started to earn his living—first as a lecturer on English literature in Edinburgh, then…

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