Few people know that the first book on economics was the treatise “Arthashastra” by Chanakya back in around 300 BCE.

While “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith (considered the “father of economics”), is a monumental work, so also is the Arthashastra – it is also a monumental work (and even more so since it was written 2,000 years ago).

If you compare the two side by side, you’ll have to try hard to not see any parallels. Even the organization of the chapters is so ridiculously similar. The Arthashastra is organized in a particular orthogonal or “cross-cutting” arrangement common to some Hindu texts, where sections in each chapter are interrelated, cutting across chapters. It’s almost as if all that Adam Smith did was just compile the work to Western standards, by linearizing the organization of the book.

Note also that Adam Smith was scholar on Indic studies, and he strongly opposed the atrocities committed by the British Empire in India.

Also, when a colleague of mine doing his MBA mentioned that Adam Smith’s work is so similar to Chanakya’s work to his economics professor (who served as an advisor to George Bush, H.W.), the professor replied back that he’s heard of that and that (paraphrasing): “it could be entirely possible as Indian civilization is much older than Western civilization”. What is the point he’s trying to make? Does that make it any less of a fact just because it was written 1,600 years before Adam Smith? Shouldn’t Chankya be the father of economics?

I think it is pretty certain that Adam Smith was influenced by the Arthashastras, given his interest in Indic studies. What is left is to be determined is just how extensively he borrowed from it. For that we’ll have to compile all similarities between the the two works, and any admissions of his own how much he was influenced by it, or how much he based his work on it.

Wish I had the time to do that! Hopefully someone will take up this as a detailed investigative study!

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