I mostly Agree With the Good Folk at Bleeding Heart Libertarians Blog
MATT ZWOLINSKI posts “Adam Smith’s Moral and Political Philosophy” on Bleeding Heart Libertarians HERE
Samuel Fleishacker writes a new entry (2013) in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on “Adam Smith’s Moral and Political Philosophy.” The whole thing is worth reading, including the extremely helpful summary of Smith’s complicated moral theory as developed in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.
[GK: I very much agree: follow the link HERE
The fifth section on Smith’s political philosophy will be of primary interest. Fleishacker describes Smith as an advocate of a relatively minimal state … :
The practical point of his treatise on economics was to urge this restrained, modest approach to economic intervention on governing officials. Smith did not favor as hands-off an approach as some of his self-proclaimed followers do today—he believed that states could and should re-distribute wealth to some degree, and defend the poor and disadvantaged against those who wield power over them in the private sector (see Fleischacker 2004, § 57)—but he certainly wanted the state to end all policies, common in his mercantilist day, designed to favor industry over agriculture, or some industries over others. Smith believed strongly in the importance of local knowledge to economic decision-making, and consequently thought that business should be left to businesspeople, who understand the particular situations in which they work far better than any government official (on this Hayek understood Smith well: see Hayek 1978 Hayek, Friedrich, 1978, “Adam Smith's Message in Today's Language,” in Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 267–9] and C. Smith 2013) [Smith, Craig, 2013, “Adam Smith and the New Right,” in The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith, C. J. Berry, M. Paganelli & C. Smith (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 539–558]. By the same token, governance should be kept out of the hands of businesspeople, since they are likely to use it to promote their particular interests, and not be concerned for the well-being of the citizenry as a whole: Smith’s opposition to the East India Company is based on this principle (see Muthu 2008).
Until the late eighteenth century, most writers on the role of government vis-à-vis the poor maintained that governments should keep the poor in poverty, so that they show proper respect to their superiors and not waste money on drink. Smith had more influence than anyone else in changing this attitude—he was one of the earliest and most fervent champions of the rights and virtues of the poor, arguing against wage caps and other constraints that kept the poor from rising socially and economically
So, given that Smith was such a champion of the poor, why did he favor a limited government? Why not have the government do more to help the poor? Fleishacker’s essay contains a lengthy discussion of Smith’s answer to this question, and again, the whole thing is worth reading:
“The first answer to that is that Smith did not think government officials were competent to handle much beside the needs of defense and the administration of justice…..In addition, Smith holds that social sanctions can do a better job at many tasks that other thinkers expected of political sanctions….Finally, Smith limits the activities of governments because he considers it crucial to the development of virtue that people have plenty of room to act, and shape their feelings, on their own…Indeed, for Smith, governments can best encourage virtue precisely by refraining from encouraging virtue.”
Smith doesn’t look much like a contemporary libertarian. …
And if you identify libertarianism with the strict natural-rights view of Nozick and Rothbard, than I suppose that’s correct. … If one classifies thinkers according to their political outputs, rather than their underlying moral inputs, then it makes good sense to classify all all of these people as libertarians. …
But for purposes of the broader political conversation, we are all of us, Adam Smith included, libertarians.”
The long quotation from Bleeding Heart Libertarians shows a Blog dominated by deep thinkers of high integrity. It is worth following. I do. I am on a moderate wing of Libertarianism and sometimes feel it is necessary put clear water between myself and other Libertarians on some issues, including a few writing for the Adam Smith Institute (London), of which I am a Fellow. You can certainly add the names of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbrd to that list. If Matt Zwolinski is willing to include Adam Smith in the tent Libertarian Grand Tent, then I am comfortable to be included in it too.
Do follow the links and see how comfortable you might be too.