Literature Study GuidesThe Wealth Of NationsVolume 1 Book 4 Introduction Summary

The Wealth of Nations | Study Guide

Adam Smith

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The Wealth of Nations | Volume 1, Book 4, Introduction | Summary



In two short paragraphs, Smith explains the very basics of political economy, a branch of policy and planning whose goal is to "provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people" and to supply the government with the resources to execute various public works. He proposes to explore the two main contemporary systems of political economy, starting with the mercantile system, or as he calls it here, "the system of commerce."


Book 4 is where things really begin to heat up: the mercantile system is Smith's target, and he will devote the next eight chapters to critiquing it in great detail. As Smith points out in this introduction, mercantilism was the predominant politico-economic system of his time and was deeply entrenched in Great Britain via a system of laws, treaties, and trade agreements. The rival system Smith mentions is physiocracy, a French school of economic thought that sought to encourage agriculture over manufacturing and trade. For a fuller description of the physiocratic school, see Book 4, Chapter 9.

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