Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Smith on charity

In Timesunion.com, staff writer, Kate Gurnett, writes: “Tapped out as time for giving nears: Charity operators fear donations for recent catastrophes could cut into holiday largess”

“That notion, of the wealthy chipping in, is backed by 18th-century economist Adam Smith, who believed that capitalism and charity go hand in hand. Smith argued that capitalism requires a network of trust to function; capitalists must have a moral sentiment of caring for others.

That's why leading 19th-century industrialists from Carnegie to Stanford to Vanderbilt launched libraries, concert halls and universities, Baker said. "It was traditional to give back in some form."

Not quite. Smith believed that people in an opulent commercial society would engage in charity. He did so himself, quietly, by giving much of his high £900 annual income (for the 18th century that was a good living) to relatives and others fallen on difficult times. When he died in 1790 his estate amounted to £400 in cash and his large library. The rest he gave away, living his whole life frugally and encouraging others to do so too.

Society needed a network of trust and people had moral sentiments for others, but this had nothing particularly to do with the phenomenon of ‘capitalism’, which did not appear until the 19th century and of which he knew and wrote nothing. Charity is not something that ‘capitalists’ have to do; all members of society have this obligation, even duty.

Kate Gurnett’s full article is at: http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=419607&category=REGIONOTHER&BCCode=&newsdate=11/15/2005


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