Adam Smith and Industry Over Happiness

Ironically, Adam Smith, “the father of modern economics and the greatest original advocate of free enterprise society” admitted that a form of society based on the pursuit of vain desires–the very kind of society he advocates–would not bring us any real happiness or satisfaction!

Here’s the relevant passage. Regarding the grand houses and possessions for which we strive, Smith says:

“If we consider the real satisfaction which all these things are capable of affording…it will always appear in the highest degree contemptible and trifling.”

And yet, he says that it is the “deception” that further accumulation will make us happy and satisfied “which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind” (See Adam Smith, A Theory of the Moral Sentiments, Oxford University Press, 1976, vol. IV, ch. 1, p. 10). Smith’s self-interest-based free enterprise society thus prioritizes industrial growth over human happiness and the means over the end and this, by his own admission.

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