Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Adam Smith and the Vulnerability of Commercial Society

Marchevsky Julia Marchevsky, Universidade Federal de MInas Gerais

Although Adam Smith emphasizes the advances brought with the uprising of commercial society, he also highlights the difficulties in maintaining that social order. The decline of society is a current theme in the works of XVIII century authors, including Smith, but also David Hume, Adam Ferguson, John Millar and Lord Kames. Considering this context, we wish to show that, according to Smith’s work, the increase in the division of labor comes with an intrinsic vulnerability. In other words, we would like to point out that the commercial society is the stage most prone to decay, because of its vulnerability and its dependence on the State. This process is due, in part, to the mutilation of the human faculties suffered by the most part of the population when activities are very specialized, such as the tenth part of a pin, what renders people, in Smith’s words, into coward and stupid. The increasing limitation of human faculties – both of body and mind – results in a growing dependence on the State to maintain the social order and it raises the difficulties and the costs for the Sovereign to administrate the nation. In this scenario, the stability of a commercial society is a very difficult task, which includes the defense against others nations, the administration of justice and the control over religious revolts. The implementation of those duties, necessary for the commercial society’s preservation, increases the public debt, which “at present oppress, and will in the long-run probably ruin, all the great nations of Europe” (WN, V.iii.10). Considering those aspects, we wish to show that the instability of commercial societies is direct result from the effects of division of labor and, therefore, this fragility is not an external influence, but it is intrinsic to societies’ development.


Keywords: Adam Smith; decline; commercial society

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