The Hijacking of Adam Smith


Advocates of an unregulated global economy like to use Scottish philosopher Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to support their bold claims about the invisible hand.  Smith, capitalism’s patron saint, however, was much more nuanced and reflective than unscrupulous market-friendly ideologues portray him.  Here are a few passages from Wealth of Nations that are frequently (and purposefully) overlooked by libertarians.

“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.  It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

“It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

And that’s just from the more market-friendly book.  The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith’s treaties on ethics, is even more blasphemous.

“This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.  That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often more unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages.”

Snap, crackle and pop.

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