Study Guide

The Wealth of Nations Book III, Chapter 2

By Adam Smith

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Book III, Chapter 2

Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the Ancient State of Europe After the Fall of the Roman Empire

  • Smith goes way back in time to talk about how agriculture (and human progress in general) suffered after the fall of the Roman Empire. This happened because there were so many gangs and barbarians running around that it was hard to run a farm for more than a few weeks before some people came by and robbed you blind and burned your fields.
  • It's tough to have agriculture without law and order.
  • Smith goes on to talk about how people started using things like gender and age to figure out how to hand down property. It'd be nice if people got property based on merit, but Smith says this is too subjective to work long-term.
  • That's why kings and landowners just decided they'd give their property to their oldest sons. This is how land started to fall into the hands of specific families, who then put money into making them better. And that's how agriculture made its return—through private property.
  • Smith also goes back to his arguments for why slaves don't make sense. They have no motive to work hard on the land because they don't own it and there's no possibility of being promoted. Smith thinks that the only reason people bother having slaves is because they like the power, since slaves make no economic sense compared to wage workers.
  • Smith then describes the process that saw slaves in modern Europe disappear in favor of farmers who worked the land and paid a percentage of their earnings to their lords in the form of rent. Smith argues that this method is much more beneficial for both the farmer and the boss.
  • As far as the wealth of a nation is concerned, Smith thinks that the improvement of agricultural land is key. And he doesn't see this happening in situations where farmers have nothing to gain personally from this kind of improvement.

The Wealth of Nations Book III, Chapter 2 Study Group

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