Adam Smith


DEFINITION of 'Adam Smith'

An 18th-century philosopher and free-market economist famous for his ideas about the efficiency of the division of labor and the societal benefits of individuals' pursuit of their own self-interest. In his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith proposed the idea of the invisible hand, or the tendency of free markets to regulate themselves by means of competition, supply and demand, and self-interest. Smith is also known for his theory of compensating wage differentials, meaning that dangerous or undesirable jobs will tend to pay higher wages to attract workers to these positions. Smith died in 1790.


Smith is famously quoted as saying in his 1776 magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." Smith's ideas form the foundation of laissez-faire economics.

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