19 November 2009

He Said It: Adam Smith

"A half-starved Highland woman frequently bears more than twenty children, while a pampered fine lady is often incapable of bearing any, and is generally exhausted by two or three. Barrenness, so frequent among women of fashion, is very rare among those of inferior station. Luxury in the fair sex, while it enflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken, and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation." --Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what to make of this passage. Can you please explain the intuition behind this observation?

James R. Otteson PhD said...

It is odd, to say the least. I think he's suggesting that although luxury has its benefits, it has liabilities too--and that among the liabilities is decreased fertility. It may also contain a hint of criticism at the haughtiness of the rich (their wealth makes them weaklings), and at the same time praise for the hardiness of the (poor) Highlanders. Smith elsewhere praises the hardiness, courage, and self-discipline of the American Indians; perhaps there is some of that sentiment here.