Adam Smith, the egalitarian

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Today is Blog Action Day! This year's topic is poverty, and here's what Adam Smith, the proponent of the "invisible hand," had to say about it:

A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct.

In other words, if we're concerned about poverty, then we can't be completely indifferent to inequality. But just how much we should be concerned about inequality is still a question that's often debated. For dueling views on the relative importance of inequality in poverty, see Branko Milanovic, particularly Why we all do care about inequality, and Martin Feldstein on Reducing poverty, not inequality.

(Full disclosure: Branko Milanovic was my professor for a course on the economic development of post-communist countries.) 


Ryan Hahn

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