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An economic theory that emphasized free-market operations and the labor theory of value in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the foremost thinkers of this period include Adam Smith, who published his The Wealth of Nations in 1776; Jean Baptiste Say (1776–1832); David Hume; David Ricardo, renowned for his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817); Thomas Malthus, author of An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798); John Stuart Mill, who published his Principles of Political Economy in 1848; and Karl Marx.

The forerunners of this economic tradition were the French Physiocrats, who were advocates of laissez-faire because of their concern about the mercantilist philosophy of trade regulation or interventionist policy to acquire bullion (precious metals). Hume's response was that trade regulation and balance-of-trade ...

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