Focus on Ideas, not Sources

I tried for the dozenth time to read a bit of Adam Smith’s the Wealth of Nations, but the lack of organization to his 600 pages of ramblings made me give up. There are many pretentious people who say you need to go back to the primary sources to ‘truly’ understand things, as though understanding the idea isn’t enough unless you read it in the words of the originator. This is fallacious, and I don’t consider wikipedia, textbooks, or cliff notes inferior simply because they are streamlined. As long as the idea has been streamlined, it’s a better source.

New ideas are usually shrouded in verbosity, as with anything bleeding-edge, it takes time for people to digest ideas and make them easier to teach. As long as we are concerned with ideas, and not who said what, primary sources aren’t necessary. Most of us aren’t academics, and most of us are looking for interpretations to contemplate; we are not looking to weed through a mess of raw data, that have already been simplified.
To be fair, I suppose this cursory attitude is why I am a layman and not a scientist. I’m usually more concerned with answers than processes or questions. It’s so time consuming to confirm anything as being true (and experiments are the only way to know for sure!) It’s only when I compare my knowledge to a better informed neighbor, that I develop an inferiority complex and feel the thirst to know more, culminating in perfectionism.

But I’ve digressed….I was hoping to cherry pick some passages from the Wealth of Nations in favor of socialism; I’m sure they exist in a 600 page monstrosity! But I think only sadism can discipline someone enough to read through that book.

Who in the right mind would waste multiple evenings reading Adam Smith’s tortured writings, with a dictionary at hand? It’s just not done anymore! If he wanted to be read, he should have written it better!


7 thoughts on “Focus on Ideas, not Sources

  1. I’m ready Smith’s piece “The Wealth of Nations” for graduate studies. Due to the immensity of the text, I recommend utilization of the index as well as table of contents in efforts to focus one’s attention to the issues at hand. These elements of nonfiction act as a map or guidebook to hone in on desired topics.
    In defense of primary research, I’d like to note the value found in individual interpretation. Secondary research is only valued if the source is credible, otherwise one could find oneself reading the interpretation of a high school student, radical, or worse…propaganda and doublespeak. Best to read and develop one’s own opinion as means for academic as well as practical implementation of concepts. Adam Smith, as many authors and philosophers are known to do, wrote for an intended audience – instead of bemusing high language, one should pride themselves with digesting complicated thought; i.e. be pleased with the ability to look up a word’s definition to understand the context. There is never shame for inquisitive experience.


    1. May I ask what you intend to learn by reading the Wealth of Nations? Using an outline to focus on the interesting bits probably is the only way to read this monster now, since you can discard parts instead of following his tangled spaghetti ideas from front to back.

      Well when you are concerned with ideas, who said what is not as important as the strength of the argument. Avoiding propaganda is not a major concern. because we are already evaluating philosophical positions such as capitalism critically on their own merits. It’s not like we need to see the data to see how supply and demand are self evident. It’s not politics, and we are not concerned with who is likely to be of integrity such in an election.


      1. I’m reading Smith’s piece to see the workings of capitalism in which I’m comparing governmental systems in efforts to determine the less notorious office. Capitalism is not as bad as we think when stood next to socialism and communism. However, there are discrepancies in regards to imports…we reduced too much home production.
        I disagree; who said what is important because context/interpretation is convoluted without proper guidance. No time to waste letting unsupported opinions cloud one’s judgement.


    2. I personally don’t want to treat Adam Smith as the final solution to understanding capitalism. His writings meander in the manner of inaccessible absentminded philosophers. There’s good reason why the Communist Manifesto is so popular: you can read it in an hour. Marxism seems to build off of Adam Smith, and Marxism has developed some good tools for cutting through the elitist propaganda for laissez faire.

      What I have read from the Wealth of Nations suggested Adam Smith was more concerned with making his country rich, than trying to encourage free competition between countries. I’m pretty sure Adam Smith couldn’t have anticipated the degree to which corporations would come to lobby and rule our governments, and Marx probably dealt with more modern problems simply by living a little later in time.

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  2. Yes, Marx has some good points. Too bad his main focuses are removing capital and dissolving government. I think it is also important that Russia, the nation to embrace communism, was against industrialism in which the other nations steam ahead with industry, Russia is left to starve and deplete. Marx is not in full opposition to government – he can’t be, as communism is full government all the time in a commune type environment – he just wants to remove his current gov so as to come full force with communist ideals. Flash-forward a bit…what became of Russia? What happened as a direct result of communism? Boom! the most constraining of all gov’s. The kulaks forced to navigate the Siberian Desert. Lenin, the Bolseviks…these are serious setbacks and proof that humanity cannot exist in a created Utopia.
    For a more internal consideration for capitalism, I found much logic in Max Weber’s piece “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” wherein I discovered a familiar American concept of the value of hard work. Also, a brilliant TEDtalk on reforming capitalism by Paul Tudor Jones III who recommends incorporating Justness to equate to Monetary value as means to raise morality. Capitalism is something each of us participate in daily, I think it is healthy to question why that is. We each have part in supporting our government system, and each American would benefit from knowing what large corporations do with profits. I wrote a piece on reforming capitalism for modern day, but session is still on – I will post the essay probably over Thanksgiving break, and would love to hear your critique.


  3. Robotics and automation might help with socialism though, and under the Pareto principle though there is always someone who is driven to go beyond the minimum and push the envelope for the slackers. Sure I’d like to take a look at it.


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