Population growth, the settlement process and economic progress : Adam Smith's theory of demo-economic development

Abstract : Population - in its original sense of the process of peopling - is a topic surprisingly absent from the huge volume of scholarship on Adam Smith. This topic was central to 18th century moral philosophy and political economy, the two fields Smith most famously contributed to. Its importance in Smith’s work was obscured in the 20th century by a narrow focus on economic matters in the secondary literature. For an undivided analysis of Smith’s oeuvre it is crucial that the central position of the peopling process be brought to light. Three topics that are today recognised as essential to Smith’s project are thus intimately connected to population: the relation between the division of labour and the extent of the market; the stadial theory of progress; and the link between the development of town and country, itself central to Smith’s advocacy of the freedom of trade. The market is a concept read today through an institutional lens linking it to the functioning of the capitalist economic system; Smith conceived of it as facility for trade, with essentially demographic and geographic vectors. The progress of society is both cause and effect of the growth of population. At its core is the symbiotic interrelationship between rural and urban development that Smith called the “natural progress of opulence”. In turn, looking at dynamics of population and development - including the analysis of the demographic transition - through a Smithian rather than a neo-Malthusian lens leads to a fundamental reconsideration of causal interactions between mortality, fertility, wealth and institutional variables.
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Jérôme Lange. Population growth, the settlement process and economic progress : Adam Smith's theory of demo-economic development. Economics and Finance. Université Panthéon-Sorbonne - Paris I, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017PA01E039⟩. ⟨tel-02275782⟩

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