Yes, you're right, of course that headline is a deliberately provocative piece of hyperbole. And yet it is indeed true that Smith described at least the most feminist of all socio-economic systems, that of roughly free market roughly capitalism. For that is the only system of organisation which has ever lifted mankind out of Malthusian growth.
At which point this new book looks like a waste of valuable space and time:
Does capitalism help or hurt women is an enduring question. And one that a fascinating book, Capitalism, For and Against: a Feminist Debate (Cambridge University Press), seeks to answer that question.
There is the ritual mention of the fall in child mortality made but not enough is made of the full horror of that past. At which point Don Boudreaux mentions Queen Anne:
A high-born English royal in the early modern era – a woman who was for twelve years Queen of what was by then one of the wealthiest nations on earth – died as a widow in 1714 at the age of 49 without a single surviving child despite giving birth ten times. (Each of her other seven pregnancies ended in a miscarriage.) Anne’s longest-surviving child was Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, who in 1700 died at the age of 11.
Anne’s sad fate was unusually bad even for her era, and especially for her class.
Yes, at the bad end of the spectrum. Yet when we examine all the Stuart and Hanoverian Kings/Queens of England we find that absolutely none of them had all children surviving into adulthood. For many not even a majority of pregnancies led to a child even, rather than a baby and then nothing.
The aim and point of any form of life is of course that the life itself replicates down the generations. And for human beings, until very recently, that meant that in order to have a good chance of grandchildren a woman would be pregnant or nursing from marriage until menopause. If she survived that grueling duty of course, or if her fertility did. And that is the greatest achievement of the surplus that this capitalist free marketry has brought.
Today an odds on chance of grandchildren, a stable population, is achieved with 2.1 completed pregnancies per woman. Rather than the 10 and 20 needed by the British royal family of only two and three centuries ago. And if that ain't a feminist advance then what is?
Smith may only have described the system which achieved this but there's no doubt at all in our minds that this capitalist free marketry is the most feminist socio-economic system devised as yet.