Property and Progress: Where Adam Smith Went Wrong

Robert Brenner

in Marxist History-writing for the Twenty-first Century

Published by British Academy

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780197264034
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734601 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Occasional Papers

Property and Progress: Where Adam Smith Went Wrong

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During the first half of the twentieth century there was widespread agreement as to whether the way to understand the historical emergence of economic development in the West was through the theoretical lens provided by Adam Smith. This chapter critiques Smith's view of the transition through which the pre-capitalist social property relations were transformed into capitalist property relations – a transition that is believed to have been mistakenly attributed by Smith to the expansion of trade. It is argued instead that the rise of capitalist social property relations in England, which led to economic development, was instead catalyzed by the growth of specialization, investment, and the rising labour productivity in agriculture. In addition, it is argued that industrial and economic development were caused by the separation of the manufacturing from the peasantry.

Keywords: economic development; Adam Smith; social property relations; capitalist property relations; trade; growth of specialization; investment; labour productivity; industrial development; manufacturing

Chapter.  25114 words. 

Subjects: Methods and Historiography

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