What Admirers of Socialism Like AOC Could Learn From Just the Title of Adam Smith's Classic Book

The full name of Adam Smith's great work is "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations."  Even before we crack the spine of that book, we can learn a lot about that title.

Look at the title -- it might be a bit strange to modern eyes.  Because when we have inquiries today, it's generally on the opposite topic -- why are people still poor?  Most of us look around and see the incredible advancement of the modern economy and if we wonder anything, we wonder why some folks are still poor.

But in Adam Smith's day, human experience was far different.  Basically, the history of humanity to the year 1776 was that pretty much everyone was poor -- grinding, dangerous, subsistence poverty despite backbreaking labor -- and they had been so in a nearly unchanging way for millenia.  In Adam Smith's day, in the early days of the industrial revolution and increasing market-based commerce, the question was why are ordinary people -- people who aren't in ruling classes that just seize the wealth they have -- becoming wealthy.  At the time, the existence of wealth that existed without just looting it was what needed to be explained.

The fact that AOC and other modern admirers of socialism can fret about poverty is, as they imagine, attributable to capitalism, but not in the way they think.  Capitalism did not cause the poverty, it created the situation in which poverty is an issue with but a minority of the population (rather than essentially everyone).  Before capitalism, fretting about poverty would just have been fretting about .. the way things are for everyone.

It is worth a final note here to remind everyone that what we call "poor" today has pretty much nothing in common with what would be considered poor in Adam Smith's day, or at any other time in history.  The poor in America today -- whose major health problem is obesity! -- would be fabulously wealthy in any other pre-capitalist era.  One can even argue that the poor in America are better off than the poor in other supposed socialist paradises like Denmark, Sweden, or France.