The simple points upon which this book is based might be much easier to understand today than when it was written, because a large part of the growth of the world economy has been based on the ideas about the growth of capital which this book assumed as the fundamental surplus value of economic activity. Less than a century later, Karl Marx was able to demonstrate, in his book, THE POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY, how vacuous the ideas of good and bad, as they are usually applied in political economy, turn out to be in practice. Americans have largely accepted the notion of a consumer society totally dependent on copyright and trade laws to protect the value of the entertainment and related therapeutic products which it produces. What might be most upsetting to readers of this book, that someone like myself could use it to reflect on the events of 9/11/2001 as a challenge to such modern assumptions, as if the policing powers which maintain the world financial situation of today have more to fear from an examination of how this book treats consumption than from the usual lessons based on the growth of wealth, might make this an unacceptable view of what this book actually says.
When this book was written, Adam Smith was able to combine economic ideas about the distribution and production (which he considered the highest good) of articles of commerce, in contrast to "the bad effects of the monopoly," in a way that caused thinking people in Britain to believe that the world would be materially better off if the American colonies were free of rules which required those who produced all the tobacco from Maryland and Virginia to sell it in or through Great Britain. Adam Smith was worried that capital maintained to store this product in London was depriving England of the opportunity to produce goods that would generate more wealth. "At the port of London, indeed, it is commonly sold for ready money. The rule is, Weigh and pay. At the port of London, therefore, the final returns of the whole round-about trade are more distant than the returns from America by the time only that goods may lie unsold in the warehouse; where, however, they may sometimes lie long enough." The American revolution was greeted by economic free traders as an event likely to cause a great increase in the wealth of nations, and the normally victorious political element maintains a strong belief in this fiscal ideology.
The current situation might be closer to "the time only which the goods may lie unsold in the warehouse." Near the end of Book IV, "Of Systems of Political Economy," Chapter VII, "Of Colonies," there was a frightening example of how bad things might get to be. "In Spain and Portugal the bad effects of the monopoly, aggravated by other causes, have perhaps nearly overbalanced the natural good effects of the colony trade." Plenty of things went wrong, causing a large portion of the population to feel that they were victims of circumstances, " . . . but above all, that irregular and partial administration of justice, which often protects the rich and powerful debtor from the pursuit of his injured creditor, and which makes the industrious part of the nation afraid to prepare goods for consumption of those haughty and great men to whom they dare not refuse to sell upon credit, and from whom they are altogether uncertain of repayment." Certainly, a great deal of money is in circulation today, and a tremendous amount is considered working capital, capable of producing many things that people might want, but the routine search for contraband includes cash in an amount exceeding $10,000, the amount which might be capable of buying a large amount of illegal substances. Police are actually so unfamiliar with cash transactions that large amounts might be held as evidence, until the police have been convinced that they have no reason to suspect the person who had the money of being involved in any sort of laundering activity. When Adam Smith was writing, his work was as shocking to those controlling the monopolies of his day as radical protests of today rile the police on the beat today, whose confiscation of vehicles, which are sometimes temporary, to see if they were used to transport illegal substances, is not considered in any way similar to hijacking airplanes in order to crash them into buildings which symbolize a violation of the right of the people to personal pleasure in a manner which averts the collapse of society as we know it. This hardly makes more sense than those who expected seizure of everybody's major assets to solve society's problems.