All aboard! We're reading the Digression on Silver

August 22 and 24, 2023

with Janet Bufton
We appreciate your interest in this virtual reading group. Unfortunately, this VRG is full and we are no longer accepting registrations. We invite you to check out our upcoming events here. We hope to see you at a future VRG!

In Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, there is a much-maligned (maybe even famously maligned) digression on the value of silver over four centuries. Even Adam Smith superfan Russ Roberts admitted to quitting the book the first time he got to the Digression on Silver! But this isn't the only reaction to the Digression on Silver. Despite jokes that it would warrant a single, dismissive tweet, the #WealthOfTweets project took a whole week to tweet through the digression. And Adam Smith Works executive advisory member Maria Pia Paganelli has called the Digression "the centrepiece of the Wealth of Nations".

Join us over lunch for two one-hour sessions to explore this (in)famous section of the Wealth of Nations. Participants will be asked to read the Digression in its entirety before the first session, with a different focus for discussion on each day. Familiarity with the Wealth of Nations will be an asset to participants, but only the Digression is required reading.

Session I: Tuesday, August 22, 2023, 1:00-2:00 pm EDT, What is Smith doing here?

Participants will dive into the nitty-gritty of the Digression to tease out the insights Smith makes about things like value and prices, the nature of wealth, and economic progress.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book 1 Chapter 11:
Digression concerning the Variations in the Value of Silver during the Course of the Four Last Centuries (First Period, Second Period, Third Period)— I.xi.e–g, pp. 195–228
Variations in the Proportion between the respective Values of Gold and Silver— I.xi.h, pp. 228–233
Grounds of the Suspicion that the Value of Silver still continues to decrease— I.xi.i, p. 234
Different Effects of the Progress of Improvement upon the real price of three different Sorts of Rude Produce (First Sort, Second Sort, Third Sort)— I.xi.j–m, pp. 234–255
Conclusion of the Digression concerning the Variations in the Value of Silver— I.xi.n, pp. 255–260
(All of these readings can be found online in Chapter 11: Of the Rent of Land)

Session II: Thursday, August 24, 2023, 1:00-2:00 pm EDT, But why?

The Digression on Silver is longer than Book III of Wealth of Nations. Why does Smith spend so long on this topic? What were the implications for his insights for political economy in 1776, and how does this section inform our reading of the remainder of Wealth of Nations? And why, oh why, does he put this digression in his discussion on the rent of land?

No additional readings