Study Guide

The Wealth of Nations Book III, Chapter 4

By Adam Smith

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Book III, Chapter 4

How the Commerce of the Towns Contributed to the Improvement of the Country

  • Adam Smith wants to lay out the ways that the increasing wealth of Europe's cities led to the improvement of the countryside. He sees this as happening for three main reasons.
  • For starters, the towns provided markets where the people from the country could sell all the stuff they produced, which gave them the motivation to produce even more.
  • Second, many merchants bought up a lot of the country land with the hopes of making it profitable. This led them to buy up a lot of land that had been useless before so they could turn it into productive agricultural land. In Smith's mind, merchants are often great improvers of land because they want to make it productive and profitable.
  • Finally, the cities created forms of good government that provided freedom and security to the people of the area. And when you don't have to worry about getting murdered every day, you can focus on productive stuff.
  • Over time, a relationship formed between the landowners and the farmers that resulted in a lot of Europe's land becoming more productive. You saw a population increase because the land could support more people.
  • For Smith, a huge revolution in human happiness happened in the past. But it came about not because someone wanted to help humanity, but because specific groups followed their self-interest. The merchants and landowners wanted more money, and this just so happened to make the country land better for everyone.
  • Smith returns to the idea of why the colonies of North America are growing wealthier so much more quickly than England, and it's because they are gobbling up new land for agriculture all the time.

The Wealth of Nations Book III, Chapter 4 Study Group

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