« Not swinging satellites around the sun | Main | Singapore takes a small gamble »

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Gavin Kennedy

"The puzzle is why Adam Smith chose to ignore his own analysis and write The Wealth of Nations without the benefit of a co-author.)"

Research is slightly different from writing a report of a 12 year inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. In academic research you are usually working on original data to add to the knowledge base. Here a division of labour between the authors has the advantages you identified.

Smith was working with many 'co-authors' through his use of their earlier works in the forms of the books and pamphlets they wrote and published. Each provided a piece of knowledge that Smith used to mine the knowledge base for the data he needed to develop his own work.

Wealth of Nations contains the work of many scores of other authors. Smith did not invent, discover or create the works he used to arrive at his own conclusions. No work of such a scale is the undivided labour of one author.

In a research project, which by design are narrow, limited and non-enclydopedic, the small team of authors, each a specialist in a part if not the whole, there is an active division of labour; in Wealth of Nations the division of labour is passive (many of the authors Smith drew upon were dead, including the hundreds of references to the writings of classical Rome and Greece).A research team too, uses the labours of passive particpants - its mandatory literature review, for example.

Hence there is no 'puzzle' about Smith and his lone authorship. Indeed, some (Schumpeter, Rothbard and Rashid) accuse Smith of plagiarism, an unfair and misleading accusation in my view.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • TEST

  • Subscribe in NewsGator Online

Economist Weblogs



  • This is a personal web site, produced in my own time and solely reflecting my personal opinions. Statements on this site do not represent the views or policies of my employer, past or present, or any other organisation with which I may be affiliated. The information on this site is provided for discussion purposes only, and are not investing recommendations. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy or sell securities.