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Adam Smith's "Tolerable Administration of Justice" and the Wealth of Nations

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  • Douglas A. Irwin

Abstract

In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues that a country's national income depends on its labor productivity, which in turn hinges on the division of labor. But why are some countries able to take advantage of the division of labor and become rich, while others fail to do so and remain poor? Smith's answer, in an important but neglected theme of his work, is the security of property rights that enable individuals to "secure the fruits of their own labor" and allow the division of labor to occur. Countries that can establish a "tolerable administration of justice" to secure property rights and allow investment and exchange to take place will see economic progress take place. Smith's emphasis on a country's "institutions" in determining its relative income has been supported by recent empirical work on economic development.

Suggested Citation

  • Douglas A. Irwin, 2014. "Adam Smith's "Tolerable Administration of Justice" and the Wealth of Nations," NBER Working Papers 20636, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20636
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Timothy Besley & Torsten Persson, 2009. "The Origins of State Capacity: Property Rights, Taxation, and Politics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1218-1244, September.
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    3. Ryan Bubb, 2013. "The Evolution of Property Rights: State Law or Informal Norms?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(3), pages 555-594.
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    5. Acemoglu, Daron & Johnson, Simon & Robinson, James A., 2005. "Institutions as a Fundamental Cause of Long-Run Growth," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.),Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 6, pages 385-472, Elsevier.
    6. Voigt, Stefan & Gutmann, Jerg, 2013. "Turning cheap talk into economic growth: On the relationship between property rights and judicial independence," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 66-73.
    7. Scully, Gerald W, 1988. "The Institutional Framework and Economic Development," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(3), pages 652-662, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bruno Schönfelder, 2016. "The evolution of law under communism and post-communism: a system-theory analysis in the spirit of Luhmann," Financial Theory and Practice, Institute of Public Finance, vol. 40(3), pages 293-318.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • B25 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary; Austrian; Stockholm School
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • K2 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth
    • P14 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Property Rights
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism
    • P48 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Political Economy; Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies

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