Economics
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Virtuous Discourse of Adam Smith: The Political Economist’s Measured Words on Public Policy

Michael J. Clark

Major Professor: Daniel B. Klein

Committee Members: Peter J. Boettke, Tyler Cowen

Enterprise Hall, 318
December 01, 2010, 05:00 AM to 07:00 AM

Abstract:

When Adam Smith advocated a specific approach for political discussion in regard to the public opinion, he recommended and utilized strategic yielding and caution when necessary. The approach involves a willingness to mull through and respect the surrounding views and can lead one to moderation or fudging of extreme views or simple non-disclosure of extreme views. According to Smith, one needed to consider accommodating his more extreme views given the prejudice of the public. Beliefs and attitudes that would cause uproar or conflict were carefully treated and not brashly put forth. Prudence called for political figures or philosophers to obscure, hedge, conceal, or temper their radical beliefs. Smith related the approach to that of the Athenian official Solon who put forth laws that attempted to be “the best that the people can bear.” However, the cautious approach of Smith’s approach has gone overlooked in modern literature. Smith’s caution is being taken for mild to moderate interventionist support and thus many are claiming the father of economics has many ideas aligned with established modern policies of the welfare state and the regulatory state. While the works and ideas of Adam Smith remain foundational to modern economics the interpretation of Smith is changing. This dissertation examines Smith’s measured words and cautious approach to public policy and defends the interpretation of Adam Smith as a strong proponent of liberty.

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