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Sustainable agriculture and free market economics: Finding common ground in Adam Smith

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  • Harvey James

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Abstract

There are two competing approaches to sustainability in agriculture. One stresses a strict economic approach in which market forces should guide the activities of agricultural producers. The other advocates the need to balance economic with environmental and social objectives, even to the point of reducing profitability. The writings of the eighteenth century moral philosopher Adam Smith could bridge the debate. Smith certainly promoted profit-seeking, private property, and free market exchange consistent with the strict economic perspective. However, his writings are also consistent with many aspects of sustainable agriculture. For example, Smith argued that people ought to exercise restraint in their pursuit of self-interest, and he believed in balancing economic with environmental and social considerations. If both sides of the debate more fully regard the work of Adam Smith, then proponents of the strict economic perspective might be more appreciative of the concerns raised within the sustainable agriculture community, while advocates of sustainability might be more effective in achieving the objective of a sustainable agriculture. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Suggested Citation

  • Harvey James, 2006. "Sustainable agriculture and free market economics: Finding common ground in Adam Smith," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 23(4), pages 427-438, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:23:y:2006:i:4:p:427-438
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-006-9020-6
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10460-006-9020-6
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Smith, Adam, 1759. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1759.
    2. Klaas Calker & Paul Berentsen & Gerard Giesen & Ruud Huirne, 2005. "Identifying and ranking attributes that determine sustainability in Dutch dairy farming," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 22(1), pages 53-63, March.
    3. Smith, Adam, 1776. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1776.
    4. Johnson, D Gale, 1997. "Agriculture and the Wealth of Nations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(2), pages 1-12, May.
    5. Daniel W. Bromley, 2005. "The poverty of sustainability: rescuing economics from platitudes," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 32(s1), pages 201-210, January.
    6. Patricia Allen & Martin Kovach, 2000. "The capitalist composition of organic: The potential of markets in fulfilling the promise of organic agriculture," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 17(3), pages 221-232, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Harvey James, 2008. "From the editor," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 25(1), pages 1-2, January.
    2. Michael Chappell & Liliana LaValle, 2011. "Food security and biodiversity: can we have both? An agroecological analysis," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 28(1), pages 3-26, February.
    3. Ryan Gunderson, 2014. "Problems with the defetishization thesis: ethical consumerism, alternative food systems, and commodity fetishism," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 31(1), pages 109-117, March.
    4. Sarah Velten & Julia Leventon & Nicolas Jager & Jens Newig, 2015. "What Is Sustainable Agriculture? A Systematic Review," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(6), pages 1-33, June.

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