Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-8bbf57454-wdwc2 Total loading time: 0.384 Render date: 2022-01-21T10:52:24.004Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Adam Smith on What Is Wrong with Economic Inequality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2016

DENNIS C. RASMUSSEN*
Affiliation:
Tufts University
*
Dennis C. Rasmussen is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Tufts University (dennis.rasmussen@tufts.edu).

Abstract

This article explores Adam Smith's attitude toward economic inequality, as distinct from the problem of poverty, and argues that he regarded it as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, as has often been recognized, Smith saw a high degree of economic inequality as an inevitable result of a flourishing commercial society, and he considered a certain amount of such inequality to be positively useful as a means of encouraging productivity and bolstering political stability. On the other hand, it has seldom been noticed that Smith also expressed deep worries about some of the other effects of extreme economic inequality—worries that are, moreover, interestingly different from those that dominate contemporary discourse. In Smith's view, extreme economic inequality leads people to sympathize more fully and readily with the rich than the poor, and this distortion in our sympathies in turn undermines both morality and happiness.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Baum, Sandy. 1992. “Poverty, Inequality, and the Role of Government: What Would Adam Smith Say?Eastern Economic Journal 18 (2): 143–56.Google Scholar
Bartels, Larry M. 2008. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Boucoyannis, Deborah. 2013. “The Equalizing Hand: Why Adam Smith Thought the Market Should Produce Wealth Without Steep Inequality.” Perspectives on Politics 11 (4): 1051–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fleischacker, Samuel. 2004. On Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations: A Philosophical Companion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Fleischacker, Samuel. 2006. “On Adam Smith's ‘Wealth of Nations’: Response.” Adam Smith Review 2: 246–58.Google Scholar
Fleischacker, Samuel. 2013. “Adam Smith on Equality.” In The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith, ed. Berry, Christopher J., Paganelli, Maria Pia, and Smith, Craig. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 485–500.Google Scholar
Gilens, Martin. 2012. Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Haakonssen, Knud. 1998. “Adam Smith.” In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Craig, Edward, vol. 8. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Hanley, Ryan Patrick. 2009. Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hill, Lisa. 2006. “Adam Smith and the Theme of Corruption.” Review of Politics 68 (4): 636–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Himmelfarb, Gertrude. 1984. The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
Hont, Istvan, and Ignatieff, Michael. 1983. “Needs and Justice in the Wealth of Nations .” In Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment, ed. Hont, Istvan and Ignatieff, Michael. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kennedy, Gavin. 2005. Adam Smith's Lost Legacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Macpherson, C. B. 1962. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Macpherson, C. B. 1979. Review of Donald Winch, Adam Smith's Politics: An Essay in Historiographic Revision , in History of Political Economy 11 (3): 450–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McLean, Iain. 2006. Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian: An Interpretation for the 21st Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
Obama, Barack. 2013. “Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility.” 4 December 2013. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/04/remarks-president-economic-mobility.Google Scholar
Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Putnam, Robert D. 2015. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
Rasmussen, Dennis C. 2006. “Does ‘Bettering Our Condition’ Really Make Us Better Off?: Adam Smith on Progress and HappinessAmerican Political Science Review 100 (3): 309–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rasmussen, Dennis C. 2008. The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society: Adam Smith's Response to Rousseau. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
Rothschild, Emma. 2001. Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 319–65.Google Scholar
Rothschild, Emma, and Sen, Amartya. 2006. “Adam Smith's Economics.” In The Cambridge Companion to Adam Smith, ed. Haakonssen, Knud. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Adam. 1980. Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. Wightman, W. P. D.. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
Smith, Adam. 1981. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell, R. H., Skinner, A. S., and Todd, W. B.. 2 Vols. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
Smith, Adam. 1982a. Lectures on Jurisprudence, ed. Meek, R. L., Raphael, D. D., and Stein, P. G.. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
Smith, Adam. 1982b. The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Raphael, D. D. and Macfie, A. L.. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
Smith, Adam. 1985. Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, ed. Bryce, J. C.. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
Smith, Adam. 1987. Correspondence of Adam Smith, ed. Mossner, Ernest Campbell and Ross, Ian Simpson. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
Stigler, George. J. 1975. “Smith's Travels on the Ship of State.” In Essays on Adam Smith, ed. Skinner, Andrew S. and Wilson, Thomas. Oxford: Clarendon, 237–46.Google Scholar
Stiglitz, Joseph. 2012. The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
Tegos, Spiros. 2013. “Adam Smith: Theorist of Corruption.” In The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith, ed. Berry, Christopher J., Paganelli, Maria Pia, and Smith, Craig. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 353–71.Google Scholar
Winch, Donald. 1978. Adam Smith's Politics: An Essay in Historiographic Revision. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Young, Jeffrey T., and Gordon, Barry. 1996. “Distributive Justice as a Normative Criterion in Adam Smith's Political Economy.” History of Political Economy 28 (1): 125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
20
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Adam Smith on What Is Wrong with Economic Inequality
Available formats
×

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Adam Smith on What Is Wrong with Economic Inequality
Available formats
×

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Adam Smith on What Is Wrong with Economic Inequality
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *