History Book – The Wealth of Nations, and Antonin Scalia

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: tackling social studies, civics, and science. Sounds like back to school! So let’s crack open our WORLD History Book with senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.


KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: If you leave the market alone, will it do good, or will it do evil? 


With GameStop and Bitcoin, Robinhood and Coinbase, Elon Musk, Peter Schiff, and Twitter, 2021 feels like a funny time to ponder that. But 245 years ago—at the height of revolutionary fervor—Scottish economist Adam Smith was asking that fundamental question. His book, The Wealth of Nations, was published on March 9, 1776. 

Manufacturing was taking off. Multinational corporations, colonization, and stock trade were skyrocketing. That question—what makes economies good?—created a voracious audience for Smith’s book. And some of his ideas, like the division of labor, are essential in the workplace even now. 

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett lauded Smith’s influence at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2015 annual meeting. He said Smith’s idea of specialization has influenced him in many spheres of his life, from business, to daily tasks, to charitable giving. 

BUFFETT: I mean the idea that you let other people do what they’re best at and stick with what you’re best at, I’ve carried from mowing my lawn to philanthropy. 

Writers have cited Smith’s opus more than 36,000 times. In the category of “books in the social sciences published before 1950,” The Wealth of Nations trails only Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in citations.


Moving from a giant in economics to a titan in the legal arena. U.S. Supreme Court  Justice Antonin Scalia would have turned 85 this week. He was born March 11, 1936, in Trenton, New Jersey. 

The constitutional scholar was known as much for his wit as his wisdom, and his expertise of “originalist” viewpoints. Here he is addressing a Senate Judiciary Committee in 2011. 

SCALIA: You’re talking about the doctrine of unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority, which is a misnomer because there’s no such thing as constitutional delegation of legislative authority. You cannot delegate legislative authority! 

Scalia came up in the Nixon and Ford administrations before becoming assistant attorney general. President Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court, and his appointment made him the first Italian-American justice. 

His brash and bold personality, and his conservative point of view, made his enduring friendship with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg all the more surprising. They proved that even in the 21st century, people with different viewpoints can be cordial to each other. 

GINSBURG: And I was listening to him and disagreeing with a good part of what he said, but the way he said it in an absolutely captivating way. (laughter)

Scalia died in his sleep at a ranch in Texas in 2016. A devout Roman Catholic, he left behind a wife of 46 years and nine children. Scalia’s place in the hallows of legal history is secure—as is his place in pop culture. His life inspired an opera, a play, and songs. American progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria actually put Scalia’s dissents to music in 2015. 


And for our last entry today, a reminder that nothing is new under the sun. 


Mars is in the news as NASA’s most sophisticated rover to date landed on the red planet last month. Its mission? To search for signs of “ancient life.” But, 15 years ago—on March 10, 2006—NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, arrived in the planet’s orbit. Among other goals, its mission was to see if the planet’s minerals, climate, and terrain could have supported—you guessed it—ancient life

ANNOUNCER: … Ignition and liftoff of the Atlas V rocket with MRO, surveying for the deepest insights into the mysterious evolution of Mars.

Scientists consider the spacecraft a critical part of planning for ground missions, offering high-speed data relay back to Earth. And there’s plenty more of the planet to observe and record. Jim Green, a NASA director of planetary science, put it in context at a C-SPAN event in 2016. 

GREEN: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, with that instrument called High Rise, has been operating for 10 years. We’ve only observed about 3 percent of the surface at that high resolution. 

MRO cost NASA nearly $420 million to develop, and more than $31 million a year to continue operating. It has already outlived projections; NASA designed it for a five-year mission. But, it keeps orbiting the planet, 15 years later, and NASA plans to continue the mission as long as possible.

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

(AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File) In this Nov. 6, 2014, file photo Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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