Country Gentlemen & Small Towns

In the Wealth of Nations, Smith was to pay close attention to the role of small towns in shaping the commerce and culture of the regions of a commercial state. A small town was ‘a continual fair or market’ in which ordinary men and women were able to learn the meaning of fair prices and wages and would in time begin to appreciate more general truths about the meaning of liberty and order.15 But Smith also knew how important prudent, intelligent and independent country gentlemen were in generating economic improvement in the countryside. As a class they were least likely to be corrupted by great wealth or poverty, or by ‘the wretched spirit of monopoly’ which Smith regarded as the cancer that threatened the economic, political and moral health of most modern states.16 It is hard to read Smith’s thinking about the progress of society in a commercial state without thinking of Kirkcaldy, Fife and the activities of energetic and ambitious incomers like the Oswalds, the St Clairs and the Adams; and although he never explicitly drew on the experience of Fife to ‘illustrate’ his theory of progress, it was, nonetheless, remarkably apposite.

Phillipson, Nicholas (2010). Adam Smith (p. 16). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.


I’m curious how this would translate into a “modern economy.”  Are the gentlemen what we consider venture capitalists today?  As for small towns, a number of institutions obviously fill that role today – we are able to learn about “fair prices” from various internet apps for example.

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