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Adam Smith on schooling: A classical liberal rereading

Scott Drylie

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2021, vol. 184, issue C, 748-770

Abstract: Adam Smith's article “Of the Expence of the Institutions for the Education of Youth” in The Wealth of Nations provides a series of passages that have contributed to the seemingly unassailable interpretation that Smith argued for the government subsidization of education for youth. But a nuanced passage stands in tension and has largely been neglected in the scholarship. The current article pursues whether this nuanced passage better characterizes Smith's policy inclinations on schooling. The article rereads Smith relative to the discourses, debates, and expectations that occurred on the topic of education in his time. Such late-eighteenth century contextualization reveals the weaknesses of the traditional inferences and suggests an alternative interpretation. Smith considers several policy measures, but it is wrong to conclude that he favors government subsidization. Attention to his complex rhetoric reveals that he deprecates Montesquieu's reasoning for government provision, and he censures warm sentiments when they urge the same conclusion. Besides treating the issue of policy, this article addresses the claim that Smith favored compulsory schooling.

Keywords: Adam Smith; Education history; Esotericism; Charity; Public goods; Role of government (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: B12 H40 I28 N33 P16 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2020.08.032

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:184:y:2021:i:c:p:748-770