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Book Review: The Condensed Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and Eamonn Butler

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Eamonn Butler has set himself a truly unenviable task, that is to condense a 900 page book to less than 100 pages. And just to make it harder Wealth of Nations, while well respected and admired, is rich with language and phraseology of its time. Fortunately Butler is well up to the task being as he is published author and Adam Smith expert/Director of the Adam Smith Institute. The book includes a primer of The Theory of Moral Sentiments another great book of Smith’s.

Butler has made economics students’ task that much easier with this work. Those who have read Smith’s tomes might object to his books being reduced in such a way. However the ideas contained therein are important enough that any positive method to interest people in the book has to be welcomed. As someone who has read both, I can understand that feeling.

Despite the turgid subject and original text, this book aptly reduces the book to its core. I would recommend this to anyone who wishes to brush up on their Smith or anyone keen to educate themselves on the true nature of Adam Smith’s writing. I suspect this book may end up on syllabi of well-taught Economy 101 classes in the Anglosphere and beyond.

Rarely is so much said in so few pages.

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About Marty Dodge

  • Maurice

    The Wealth of Nations was a precursor to the modern academic discipline of economics. In this and other works, Smith expounded how rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity. Smith was controversial in his own day and his general approach and writing style were often satirized by Tory writers in the moralizing tradition of Hogarth and Swift, as a discussion at the University of Winchester suggests.[81]

    George Stigler attributes to Smith “the most important substantive proposition in all of economics” and foundation of resource-allocation theory. It is that, under competition, owners of resources (for example labor, land, and capital) will use them most profitably, resulting in an equal rate of return in equilibrium for all uses, adjusted for apparent differences arising from such factors as training, trust, hardship, and unemployment.[82]

    Paul Samuelson finds in Smith’s pluralist use of supply and demand as applied to wages, rents, profit a valid and valuable anticipation of the general equilibrium modeling of Walras a century later. Smith’s allowance for wage increases in the short and intermediate term from capital accumulation and invention added a realism missed later by Malthus, Ricardo, and Marx in their propounding a rigid subsistence-wage theory of labour supply.[83]

  • Igor

    Adam Smith is long outdated and is only taught in an econ course on the way to refuting it (e.g., the Prisoners Dilemna). Smith was just an apologist for colonialism and the avaricious individuals who exploited colonies (e.g., the USA) for their private benefit.

    Anyway, the best source for the book is Project Gutenberg where one can get it free in a number of useful forms that can be scanned for key words and phrases.

  • The Adam Smith Model is more difficult to apply today because there are huge defense and security commitments which take a disproportionate amount of resources out of the federal budget.