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Adam Smith on the Nature and Causes of Poverty

Geoffrey Gilbert

Review of Social Economy, 1997, vol. 55, issue 3, 273-291

Abstract: Adam Smith's views on poverty have received less attention than one would expect, but they are worth examining. In the Moral Sentiments Smith takes a skeptical, ironic view of the striving for material goods and wealth. Poverty is treated not as a condition of economic deprivation but as a cause of social isolation and psychic unease. In the Lectures on Jurisprudence Smith theorizes the amval of economic inequality as a society advances from the hunting to the herding stage. He sees “poverty” (poorness) as widespread but not problematic in commercial society, since wage earners do not experience actual misery. In the growth model of the Wealth of Nations, laborers earn a wage that affords them all the necessities and even a few conveniences and luxuries. True, grinding poverty characterizes the stationary and declining economies only. Smith is oddly silent on state assistance to the poor but incisive on the health and moral consequences of urban-industrial development for the lower classes.

Keywords: poverty; Smith; Poor Law; poor (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 1997
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DOI: 10.1080/00346769700000001

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