Study Guide

The Wealth of Nations Primitivity

By Adam Smith


In Smith's time, people believed that Western European countries were fundamentally better and more advanced than the countries of Africa and Asia. They thought this was the case because they had all kinds of modern conveniences, but they also unfortunately thought that this gave them the right to enslave people who were "less advanced" than them.

They didn't bother to consider that there might be different ways of living and that none of them are more advanced or primitive than any other. The Wealth of Nations both buys into this ridiculous view of the world and challenges it.

Questions About Primitivity

  1. Do you agree with the argument that free markets would have eventually gotten rid of slavery without government intervention? Why or why not?
  2. What kinds of things did people of Smith's time mean when they talked about an advanced society versus a primitive one? Why?
  3. In Smith's opinion, what is the main reason that the people of Asia and Africa (in his opinion) have stayed more primitive than those of Europe?

Chew on This

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith shows us that there is no such thing as primitive and advanced societies, because these labels are completely subjective.

The Wealth of Nations reminds us that when it comes to economics, there is definitely such a thing as progress.