Thursday, January 29, 2009

Smith on Equity

Michael’ writes the Urbane Scrumping Blog: HERE:

I consider myself a belated child of the enlightenment and that Adam Smith is just a quantitative utilitarianist. I can never totally accept the utilitarian vision, being tempered by both Rawls and a belief in some values (like equity) that aren't easy to nail in a utilitarianst sense.”

Why does Michael bring Adam Smith into a criticism of utilitarianism?

He was concerned with the blatant case for equity in mid-18th-century Britain, given the subsistence standards, but little more, and then occasionally when demand rose and employers had no option but to increase wages.

He stated this specifically in Wealth Of Nations:

Is this improvement in the circumstances of the lower ranks of the people to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconveniency to the society? The answer seems at first sight abundantly plain. Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.” (WN I.viii.36: p96; Edwin Canaan, ed. 1937; pp 78-9, Random House).

Smith wrote: ‘It is but equity, besides…’ seems clear to me, as if Smith expects the point he makes to be obvious.

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