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Poverty, Inequality, and the Role of Government: What Would Adam Smith Say?


  • Sandy Baum

    (Skidmore College)


This paper uses Smith's views on the distribution of income and poverty to support the argument that Smith's advocacy of laissez-faire was limited and historically specific. It discusses the relevance of these views in providing philosophical underpinning for modern social policy. Examination of Smith's ideas using the frameworks of several modern theoretical constructs, including Rawlsian justice, interdependent utility functions, countervailing power, and the theory of the second best, helps to make this link between eighteenth century thought and twentieth century policy analysis.

Suggested Citation

  • Sandy Baum, 1992. "Poverty, Inequality, and the Role of Government: What Would Adam Smith Say?," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 18(2), pages 143-156, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:eej:eeconj:v:18:y:1992:i:2:p:143-156

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Nathan Rosenberg, 1990. "Adam Smith and the Stock of Moral Capital," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 1-18, Spring.
    2. Michael Perelman, 1989. "Adam Smith and Dependent Social Relations," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 21(3), pages 503-520, Fall.
    3. Hochman, Harold M & Rodgers, James D, 1969. "Pareto Optimal Redistribution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(4), pages 542-557, Part I Se.
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    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • I30 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General


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