Smith published his most important work, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (shortened to “The Wealth of Nations”) in 1776 after returning from France and retiring to his birthplace of Kirkcaldy, Scotland.5 In “The Wealth of Nations,” Smith popularized many of the ideas that form the basis for classical economics. Other economists built on Smith’s work to solidify classical economic theory, the dominant school of economic thought through the Great Depression. Smith’s ideas are evident in the work of David Ricardo and Karl Marx in the nineteenth century and John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman in the twentieth century
Smith’s work discusses the evolution of human society from a hunter stage without property rights or fixed residences to nomadic agriculture with shifting residences. The next stage is a feudal society where laws and property rights are established to protect privileged classes. Finally, there is modern society, characterized by laissez-faire or free markets where new institutions are established to conduct market transactions.