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Growing, innovating, convincing, approving: intellectual stimuli from Adam Smith


  • Giorgio Rampa

    () (Department of Economics and Quantitative Methods, University of Pavia)


It is argued that, differently from a diffuse practice among modern economists, one needs reading more than the first couple of pages of the Wealth of Nations in order to fully appreciate Smith’s contribution to the economics of exchange, innovation and economic evolution. In particular, by going back to the History of Astronomy, the First Formation of Languages and the Theory of Moral Sentiments, one finds that in Smith’s opinion any kind of social order (languages, theories, social norms, evaluation of products) stems from a co-evolution process. Evolution is fostered by “surprise and imagination”, i.e. by dissatisfaction with some existing order; however imagination (that is, innovation) can only be successful if it is approved by the community; approval, in turn, is grounded on uses, customs, moods. As a consequence, there is no guarantee that evolution is progressive. More important, self-reference and the very mechanisms of imagination (from sudden surprise to sudden invention to successful new knowledge links) imply that evolution is characterised by highly ‘non-linear’ relations. It follows that, as usual in non-linear theory, there does not exist a unique path of development for a society, nor one which depends uniquely on “fundamental” parameters. Some of Smith’s key notions -like specialization, division of labour, effectual demand, propensity to exchange, self interest, prosperity- can be read from this different perspective, leading to an interpretation which is differs deeply from the one usually adopted by modern economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Giorgio Rampa, 2009. "Growing, innovating, convincing, approving: intellectual stimuli from Adam Smith," Quaderni di Dipartimento 107, University of Pavia, Department of Economics and Quantitative Methods.
  • Handle: RePEc:pav:wpaper:107

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Tamás Rudas & Wicher P. Bergsma, 2004. "On applications of marginal models for categorical data," Metron - International Journal of Statistics, Dipartimento di Statistica, Probabilità e Statistiche Applicate - University of Rome, vol. 0(1), pages 15-37.
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    4. repec:dau:papers:123456789/3692 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Claudia Tarantola & Ioannis Ntzoufras, 2012. "Bayesian Analysis of Graphical Models of Marginal Independence for Three Way Contingency Tables," Quaderni di Dipartimento 172, University of Pavia, Department of Economics and Quantitative Methods.
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    7. A. Roverato & M. Lupparelli & L. La Rocca, 2013. "Log-mean linear models for binary data," Biometrika, Biometrika Trust, vol. 100(2), pages 485-494.
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    JEL classification:

    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals


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