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“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner,” Smith wrote, quill scratching against the parchment, “but from their regard to their own interest.” With a clarity and perception not yet marshaled in the world of academia, Smith understood the value of mutual trade to humanity’s welfare. The word ‘capitalism’ not having been invented yet, he called it merely the ‘system of perfect liberty’. The market, as he saw it, held more potential for prosperity than even the kindest king dishing gold from his coffers. Smith also intuitively grasped the power of cooperation amongst manufacturers, the ‘competitive advantage’ that benefits everyone when individuals specialized in their best skill. Smith saw the autonomous people of a market working together in perfect harmony, even if they weren’t trying to, all of them guided by that ‘invisible hand’ (a phrase he only used twice in the entire book, but has become a fixed feature in today’s economic conversations).
Smith’s work is revolutionary not because he invented a marvelous new theory of trade, but because he was the first to study and analyze what has been going on since the dawn of mankind. In so doing, he became the father of 'economics', another word that did not yet exist in his time. Every major work on economics since derives some influence, whether positive or negative, from the Wealth of Nations. Smith’s ‘system of perfect liberty’ may not be so perfect these days, but the laws he so carefully explained have not changed. Honor his brilliant work by proving his theories, and going shopping! Starting with this sticker, of course.