Warships, Cargo Ships and Adam Smith: Trade and Government in the Eighteenth Century

By Richard W. Unger, published February 2006


In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith argued against current economic policies related to trade and the navy, giving them less credit for positive long-term growth in the British economy than they deserved.  This essay suggests that Smith’s negative focus on government debt and expenditure must be balanced by acknowledgement that government intervention contributed to unprecedented growth in total and per capita output throughout the eighteenth century.  Paradoxically, the naval and fiscal protection provided by government policy fostered the long-term development in shipping that made it possible for Smith to argue against extensive government involvement in the economy.

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Filed under: Other (Eighteenth C)
Subjects include: Merchant Marines | Navies

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