Adam Smith's Definition of Economics With Criticisms

GP Chudal


Adam Smith’s Definition of Economics and Its Criticisms

Adam Smith, often regarded as the “Father of Economics,” provided a significant definition of economics in his renowned work, ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,’ published in 1776 A.D. Let’s explore into Adam Smith’s definition of economics, its key features, and the criticisms it has faced over time.

Main Features of Adam Smith’s Definition of Economics

Adam Smith’s definition of economics can be summarized as follows:

  1. Economics as the Science of Money: Smith defined economics as the science of money. He emphasized that the study of economics primarily revolves around money, including its creation, utilization, exchange, and distribution. In his view, money plays a central role in satisfying human needs.
  2. The Main Purpose of Man is to Make Money: According to Smith, the primary purpose of human life is to earn money. This definition places making money as the foremost goal of individuals, giving precedence to the study of money over the study of human behavior.
  3. Focus on Economic Man: Smith’s definition highlights the importance of economic man. He posited that economics solely examines individuals engaged in economic activities, emphasizing their role in wealth creation.
  4. Employable Labor as the Main Source of Wealth: According to Smith’s definition, the primary source of wealth is remunerative labor. Specialized labor leads to increased productivity, contributing to the prosperity of nations.

Criticisms of Adam Smith’s Definition of Economics

While Adam Smith’s definition of economics has historical significance, it has faced criticisms from various scholars, including Carlyle, Richardson, Ruskin, and others. The main criticisms are as follows:

  1. Overemphasis on Wealth: Smith’s definition is criticized for placing excessive importance on wealth, often at the expense of considering human needs. Critics argue that the true purpose of wealth is to bring happiness and satisfaction to individuals.
  2. Emphasis on Economic Man: Smith’s definition is faulted for its exclusive focus on economic man. It neglects the complex nature of humans, who possess emotions like sympathy, kindness, love, and charity towards others, not solely driven by financial gain.
  3. Narrow Scope of Economics: Critics contend that Adam Smith’s definition limits the scope of economics to wealth acquisition, excluding critical aspects like resources, unlimited needs, production, exchange, distribution, economic development, poverty, and inequality.
  4. Limited Understanding of Wealth: Smith’s definition restricts wealth to immaterial objects, excluding immaterial resources that also fulfill human needs. Critics argue that both material and immaterial assets should be considered as wealth.
  5. Misconception of the Sole Source of Wealth: Smith’s assertion that labor is the sole source of wealth is challenged by critics. They argue that wealth can also originate from natural resources, capital, technology, and other factors, highlighting a broader perspective on wealth creation.

Conclusion: Adam Smith’s definition of economics, which places money and wealth at its core, has shaped the field of economics for centuries. However, it has not been without its critics, who argue that it overemphasizes wealth, neglects the complexity of human nature, and confines the scope of economics. While Smith’s definition remains influential, contemporary economics has evolved to encompass a broader range of topics and considerations, reflecting the changing dynamics of our modern world.

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