IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and the importance of acknowledging it)

Listed author(s):
  • Andreas Ortmann


    (School of Economics, Australian School of Business, the University of New South Wales)

  • Benoit Walraevens

    (Centre for Research in Economics and Management,Université de Caen Basse Normandie)

Analyzing the rhetorical structure of The Wealth of Nations (Smith WN) and its context, we make the case for the central importance of its Book V, "Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth”, which tends to be neglected in most accounts of Smith’s oeuvre (even, most recently, in the outstanding Phillipson 2010) but which in our reading is, rather than a general treatise on optimal taxation and spending, a book focused on the future of an empire being threatened by a Mercantilist system. The Empire in question was, of course, the British one. Book V follows Book IV, in which Smith -- after having documented the slow and unnatural progress of opulence in, among others, England and Scotland in Book III – had undertaken a “very violent attack” (Smith EPS p. 208; Smith Corr. p. 251) on those responsible for the low growth rates (“opulence”) in Scotland and, even more, England: manufacturers and merchants and those politicians who propagated Mercantilist philosophies and practices of the commercial class. Aware that those he targeted would not take kindly to the attack, Smith made his case against the Mercantilist system as well as its colonial policy by marshaling his earlier insights into rhetorical theory and practice. We explain why and how he organized his attack.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by School of Economics, The University of New South Wales in its series Discussion Papers with number 2014-11A.

in new window

Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2015
Handle: RePEc:swe:wpaper:2014-11a
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Australian School of Business Building, Sydney 2052

Phone: (+61)-2-9385-3380
Fax: +61)-2- 9313- 6337
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

in new window

  1. Endres, A M, 1991. "Adam Smith's Rhetoric of Economics: An Illustration Using 'Smithian' Compositional Rules," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 38(1), pages 76-95, February.
  2. Maria Pia Paganelli, 2010. "The Moralizing Role of Distance in Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments as Possible Praise of Commerce," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 42(3), pages 425-441, Fall.
  3. Andreas Ortmann & David Baranowski & Benoit Walraevens, 2015. "Schumpeter’s Assessment of Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations: Why He Got It Wrong," Discussion Papers 2015-28, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  4. Jean Dellemotte & Benoît Walraevens, 2015. "Adam Smith on the subordination of wage-earners in the commercial society," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(4), pages 692-727, August.
  5. Nava Ashraf & Colin F. Camerer & George Loewenstein, 2005. "Adam Smith, Behavioral Economist," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(3), pages 131-145, Summer.
  6. Ingrid H. Rima (ed.), 1995. "The Classical Tradition In Economic Thought," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 373.
  7. Vernon L. Smith, 1998. "The Two Faces of Adam Smith," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 65(1), pages 2-19, July.
  8. Jean-Louis Peaucelle, 2012. "Rhetoric and logic in Smith's Description of the Division of Labor," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(3), pages 385-408, May.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:swe:wpaper:2014-11a. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Hongyi Li)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.