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

Author

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  • 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)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Andreas Ortmann & Benoit Walraevens, 2015. "The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and the importance of acknowledging it)," Discussion Papers 2014-11A, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  • Handle: RePEc:swe:wpaper:2014-11a
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    File URL: http://research.economics.unsw.edu.au/RePEc/papers/2014-11.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Ingrid H. Rima (ed.), 1995. "The Classical Tradition In Economic Thought," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 373, June.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Vernon L. Smith, 1998. "The Two Faces of Adam Smith," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 65(1), pages 2-19, July.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Adam Smith; The Wealth of Nations; rhetoric; rhetorical structure of The Wealth of Nations;

    JEL classification:

    • B10 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - General
    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games

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