… is from pages 390-391 of the 1982 Liberty Fund issue of the 1978 Oxford University Press edition of Adam Smith ‘s Lectures on Jurisprudence ; this quotation is from a lecture that Smith delivered on April 13, 1763:
The business of commerce and industy is to produce the greatest quantity of the necessaries of life for the consumption of the nation, or exchanging one commodity for another which is more wanted. It is on the power of this exchange that the division of labour depends, which as has been shewn to the satisfaction of the whole of you is the great foundation of opulence, as it occasions the production of a greater quantity of the severall things wrought in. The production of the necessaries of life is the sole benefit of industry. If you do not use them, what is the benefit of the greatest abundance. What would be the advantage of employing a number of hands and cherishing the cultivation of the arts.
DBx: Adam Smith here reminds his students – including us – that production is a means and not an end. Production, of course, is an essential means: that which is not produced cannot be consumed. But this truth does nothing to counter or to dilute another truth: the purpose of production is to enable as much consumption as possible. We in our role as producers act to serve us as consumers. Protectionists routinely deny this truth. Protectionists nearly always have as a premise the false notion that we as consumers should act to serve us as producers. And if, in the protectionist’s judgment, we as consumers do not so act, we should be coerced by the state until we alter our actions so that they conform to the protectionist’s fancy.
I often compare the ethics of protectionists to that of common thieves. The comparison is apt. But as I’ve heard my colleague Walter Williams say many times, in one significant way common thieves are superior to protectionists. That way is this: although like protectionists, common thieves steal that which doesn’t belong to them, unlike protectionists, common thieves do not in the process insult their victims’ intelligence by asserting that their thievery will make their victims richer.
(Smith’s lectures – which are student notes taken of many of the lectures that Smith delivered – are available free-of-charge here on-line .)