Adam Smith made an early comprehensive case for liberalized international trade. Explore his argument with these resources.
Exploring the original text:
We offer guidance for building confidence and competence with original texts in your classroom.
- "Wealth of Tweets" in the classroom exercise: Smith's argument for free(r) trade includes three levels of depth for exploring Smith's argument for more liberal trade in Wealth of Nations: a core discussion of two chapters from Book 4, a more extensive discussion of four chapters from Book 4, and a longer discussion including Smith's more general argument for commercial society by adding a chapter from Book 3. These exercises mirror the reading guide options for exploring the original text below and can be paired with them.
Adam Smith Works offers reading guides that insert factual, interpretive, and evaluative questions directly into the text for exploration with your students.
Core arguments for free trade:
Core arguments for free trade:
- Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter 2: Of Restraints upon the Importation from Foreign Countries
- Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter 8: Conclusion of the Mercantile System
Extended discussion of free trade:
- Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter 1: Of the Principle of the Commercial or Mercantile System
- Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter 5: Of Bounties
Optional discussion of the general benefits of commercial society and trade:
Wealth of Nations, Book III, Chapter 4: How the Commerce of the Towns Contributed to the Improvement of the Country
Begin your class with a quick activity to set the stage for learning.
Ready-to-use lesson plans allow students to explore arguments for free trade through activities, discussion, and writing assignments.
- Trade for the Win! is a one-class lesson plan that uses a "trading game" to illustrate how trading can make two people better off.
- To Protect or Not to Protect? builds on the lessons from "Trade for the Win" with another one-class lesson plan that discusses trade barriers. This lesson plan includes an extension for honors, IB, or AP economics, as well as additional questions about the relationship between free trade and democracy.
- Understanding the Limits of The Extent of the Market is a one-period lesson that explores the benefits of growing markets using maps and passages from Wealth of Nations. This lesson plan can be used as part of the "Adam Smith Escape Room" lesson plan sequence.
- Video: Part 2: Free Trade of the An Animal That Trades video series
This eight-minute video provides an overview of Adam Smith's arguments for free international trade as opposed to the system of mercantilism—the argument underlying An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
- Podcast: The Great Antidote: Scott Lincicome on Daylight Savings and Free Trade
Host Juliette Sellgren interviews trade attorney Scott Lincicome about how to think about international trade and the arguments for free trade. (Have your students start listening at the 04:30 mark to skip a brief discussion of Daylight Savings Time.)
- Comic: The Invisible Hand
A one-page, printable comic to help students think about and discuss the most famous passage written by Adam Smith, about how economic forces act as an invisible hand to lead people to produce ends that are "no part of their intention".
- Fashion & Industry: "The Invisible Threads: Adam Smith and the Global Second-Hand Clothing Trade" by Joy Buchanan
This short reading ties lessons from Adam Smith and economics to observations about the global second-hand trade in clothing.
The Benefits of Trade, a quick review
These resources can provide a background understanding of the arguments for free trade. You can also use these resources to offer opportunities for evaluative discussion or writing assignments in which students can apply what they learned through earlier readings or lessons.
Economics as the Study of Peaceful Cooperation and Progress by Steven Horwitz.
Adam Smith claims in Wealth of Nations, "Commerce and manufactures gradually introduced order and good government, and with them, the liberty and security of individuals, among the inhabitants of the country, who had before lived almost in a continual state of war with their neighbours, and of servile dependency upon their superiors. Though it has been the least observed, it is by far the most important of their effects." (WN, III.iv.4.) Horwitz's lecture expands on the case for trade as a tool for expanding peace and pursuing progress.
- The entries on Free Trade (by Alan S. Blinder) and Protectionism (by Jagdish Bhagwati) in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics
- A Brief History of International Trade Policy by Douglas A. Irwin at EconLib.
- Related podcast: Kimberly Clausing on Open and the Progressive Case for Free Trade
- Related podcast: William Bernstein on the History of Trade
- Related podcast: David Autor on Trade, China, and U.S. Labor Markets