Notes on Ball & Dagger reader
Selections from Adam Smith (1776)
The Wealth of Nations
"Private Profit, Public Good"

Lecture notes:

On board:
  • individualistic conservatism:  human nature as essentially selfish and/or greedy
  • the parallel logics of political and economic classical liberalism
  • economic liberty as the economic leg of classical liberalism

"Private selfishness is natural but not necessarily bad, since it leads to public good"  [It does so in two ways;  only one is given by the reading.  One is the division of labor & specialization;  the other is the incentive to work hard and innovate.]

Political vs. economic realms [This distinction is questionable;  Marx will attack it soon.]  Commonalities:

Problem:  discomfort with selfishness.  [Recall it's the basis of liberalism's picture of human nature.]

Lockean liberalism:  political selfishness —» contract —» public benefits, clearly benefiting all, even if not precisely equally

Smith:  economic selfishness.  Trade, division of labor yields greater efficiency (and thus a collective benefit).  The contract is that we don't steal from or interfere with each other.

But Smith's idea goes deeper than that (although the reader's short selection doesn't indicate this).  There's a further contract:  keep the system fair.  At root, this means, fundamentally, no monopolies.  So:  why are monopolies bad?

So once again we have a contract where we mutually give up some of our [economic] liberty in order to obtain a greater collective value that each of us expects to benefit from individually.

Potential quiz questions:

Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2005-09-30
Honor Roll  |  UMD  |  Pol Sci Department

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