Adam Smith to his mother, 1735

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, so you should probably give me more money to buy that stuff.

Dearest Mother:

Your offer of increasing my allowance by a further one cent, bring the total weekly amount to 12 pence, is completely unacceptable at the present time. We both know that man must be paid in accordance with his labor. I have labored greatly over the past quarter, and strongly believe it will be far more prudent to raise my allowance to 13p.

Your arguments were very persuasive. You do indeed control the household capital. I, as a laborer, would not be able to do my work without your broom, dustpan, and feather duster. I therefore have no choice but to agree with your assessment that I am less important in the equation than you are. However, it does not stand to follow that I deserve such a meagre income. Without my labor, your capital would lie unused as dust and dirt built up in the foyer, the smoking room, and even, most distressingly, the conservatory. You will surely agree that there is value in this labor, and we must simply agree on that value.

Well, mother, I have done research. Most boys of my status in this area receive 15p per week. The invisible hand that drives these wages is forcing your quite visible hand towards your pocket. I am not an unreasonable boy, mother, so I will not even ask for the standard rate. Rather, I humble ask for just the second cent. I put my trust in the invisible hand to attack you in your sleep and raise my allowance accordingly.

Finally, it is only in your own interest that you would pay me a fair wage. Otherwise, I may leave and seek employment with a more enlightened mother, leaving you with a stack of dirty dishes and a pile of news broadsheets from time immemorial. Also, increasing my allowance will allow me to give you a better Christmas gift. I look forward to your response.

Yours most sincerely,

Little Addie Poo


This letter falls into our collection of letters relating to The Origins of Capitalism. Other letters in this collection include a letter from a farmer to his worker suggesting that he work harder for more pay, and a letter from Bernie Madoff to his wife explaining where money actually comes from (now property of the federal government). The letters will be on display at the History of the Letter Towers from July 1 until September 30, 2011. Tickets are just $15 per person or the equivalent in real human hair.

Margaret Douglas, has long been considered the Mother of the Father of Modern Capitalism. What scholars may not realize is that Margaret was responsible for not only encouraging her son’s early economic musings but also for teaching him about the lack of value in a hard day’s work and the importance of trying to scam those who love you, which Smith did his best to hide in his writings for the sake of civilization.

He eventually got his allowance raised to 17p weekly.


1 Comment

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One response to “Adam Smith to his mother, 1735

  1. “I put my trust in the invisible hand to attack you in your sleep and raise my allowance accordingly.” Ha, loved it.

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