Study Guide

Farmers in The Wealth of Nations

By Adam Smith

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In Adam Smith's opinion, there's no one in society more productive than a farmer. After all, they grow stuff out of the ground so that the rest of society can survive on their food. But for dumb reasons, governments have often gotten in the way of farmers doing a good job. In old times, for example:

The farmers too, besides paying the rent, were anciently, it was supposed, bound to perform a great number of services to the landlord, which were seldom either specified in the lease, or regulated by any precise rule. (3.2.16)

In other words, farmers were like personal servants for their lords. And you can't produce enough food to feed a country when you're busy fixing someone's broken window.

Smith is deeply annoyed that farming and agriculture hasn't made more progress in the modern age, and he blames this lack of progress on the laws that have held farmers back. In his words:

Under all these discouragements, little improvement could be expected from the occupiers of land. (3.2.19)

After all, what's the point of being a great farmer when you're treated like (no pun intended) dirt? Adam Smith admits that:

The station of a farmer besides is, from the nature of things, inferior to that of a proprietor. (3.2.19)

But he still thinks more needs to be done to encourage farmers to improve their land and farming techniques. At the end of the day, Smith thinks that growing food is the most productive thing people can do, and all he wants is for the government to get out of the way and let farmers do their thing.

Farmers in The Wealth of Nations Study Group

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