Adam Smith Statue, Royal Mile, Edinburgh.

About 4.0m people visit Edinburgh each year the vast majority of which will explore the famous Royal Mile near the top of which is a statue of Adam Smith which stands close to St Giles’ Cathedral. Unfortunately, only a tiny fraction of these visitors will have heard of Adam Smith who was, arguably, the first economist and whose writings were instrumental in policies which generated huge wealth and personal liberty through free trade from the 19th century onwards right through to modern-day. There is another monument to Smith in form of a grave-maker near the bottom of the Royal Mile in the burial ground of Canongate Kirk.

Who was Adam Smith?

Adam Smith was a Scottish political economist and philosopher. He has become famous from his influential book The Wealth of Nations (1776).

Smith was the son of the Comptroller of the Customs at Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. The exact date of his birth is unknown. However, he was baptized at Kirkcaldy on June 5, 1723, his father having died some six months previously.

Here is a summary of Adam Smith’s life:

  • Attended Glasgow University at age about 15 years where he studied moral philosophy.
  • Entered Balliol College, Oxford, England in 1740.
  • In 1748 began delivering lectures in Edinburgh which by his mid or late 20s had evolved to expound his economic philosophy of natural liberty which subsequently formed the kernel of his  Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
  • In 1751 Smith was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow university, transferring in 1752 to the chair of moral philosophy.
  • In late 1763 Smith obtained a lucrative post as tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch.
  • From 1764 to 1766 he travelled with his pupil, mainly in France where he connected with local intellectual leaders.
  • On return to Kirkaldy, Scotland he devoted much of the following ten years to his magnus opus which was published in 1776.
  • In 1778 Smith was appointed Commissioner of Customs in Scotland and moved to Edinburgh.
  • Smith died at Edinburgh on July 17th 1790 following a painful illness.

The importance of Adam Smith

His Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth Of Nations (1776), is considered to be one of the most influential books ever written.He argued that free trade was a far superior means to generating prosperity compared with the extensive system of elaborate tariffs and controls which then existed.

Smith’s ideas had profound influence on politicians of the time which in turn laid the foundation for economic expansion based on free trade which drove wealth creation from the 19th century onwards.

Smith’s grave-marker at Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh.

Famous alumni-including Smith- recorded in gates of Glasgow University.

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