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Adam Smith

Philosopher / Economist

Born: June 1723
Died: 17 July 1790
Birthplace: Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Best known as: The author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
Scottish philosopher Adam Smith is the author of the 1776 book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, a classic of modern economics beloved especially by free market advocates. He began his academic career as a professor of logic and moral philosophy in Glasgow (1751-64), but after about 1748 he was famously part of the Edinburgh intellectual circle that included David Hume. Smith gained international attention for his 1759 examination of societal ethics, Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he argued that people are naturally empathetic to those suffering in their midst. But his Wealth of Nations secured Smith's fame -- the book sold out five editions during his lifetime, including revised versions in 1784 and 1789. He is credited with being the first to examine the importance of the division of labor and worker productivity, and for advancing the idea that free markets thrive on the basis of mutual self-interest. Although Smith warned against monopolies and mercantilism, his notion that markets are driven toward the public good by an "invisible hand" has made him a venerated figure among free market doctrinaires. He spent his last years in Edinburgh as a government official, as the Commissioner of Customs.
Extra credit: Most sources list his birthdate as 5 June 1723, the date of his baptism... His father died before Smith was born; Smith lived with his mother most of his life and never married.

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