The Adam Smith Myth

 By Murray N. Rothbard

Adam Smith … is a mystery in a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. The mystery is the enormous and unprecedented gap between Smith's exalted reputation and the reality of his dubious contribution to economic thought. Smith's reputation almost blinds the sun….. He was universally hailed as the Founding Father

Smith was scarcely the founder of economic science, a science which existed since the medieval scholastics and, in its modern form, since Richard Cantillon. ….The problem is that he originated nothing that was true, and that whatever he originated was wrong; that, even in an age that had fewer citations or footnotes than our own, Adam Smith was a shameless plagiarist, acknowledging little or nothing and stealing large chunks, for example, from Cantillon. Far worse was Smith's complete failure to cite or acknowledge his beloved mentor Francis Hutcheson, from whom he derived most of his ideas as well as the organization of his economic and moral philosophy lectures.
Even though an inveterate plagiarist, Smith had a Columbus complex, accusing close friends incorrectly of plagiarizing him. And even though a plagiarist, he plagiarized badly, adding new fallacies to the truths he lifted. …. Smith not only contributed nothing of value to economic thought; his economics was a grave deterioration from his predecessors: from Cantillon, from Turgot, from his teacher Hutcheson, from the Spanish scholastics, even oddly enough from his own previous works, such as the Lectures on Jurisprudence (unpublished, 1762-63, 1766) and the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).
The mystery of Adam Smith, then, is the immense gap between a monstrously overinflated reputation and the dismal reality. But the problem is worse than that; for it is not just that Smith's Wealth of Nations has had a terribly overblown reputation from his day to ours. The problem is that the Wealth of Nations was somehow able to blind all men, economists and laymen alike, to the very knowledge that other economists, let alone better ones, had existed and written before 1776. The Wealth of Nations exerted such a colossal impact on the world that all knowledge of previous economists was blotted out, hence Smith's reputation as Founding Father. The historical problem is this: how could this phenomenon have taken place with a book so derivative, so deeply flawed, so much less worthy than its predecessors?











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