Of Ethics and Economics


“Very real tensions run through Adam Smith’s thought, tensions that derived from his ingenious but untenable effort to reconcile ‘the old ethics with the new economics’.  Smith’s ‘economics’ presupposes his moral theory and its jurisprudential component, and the transformation of his thought into an apologetic bourgeois ideology required a systematic vulgarization, a process in which Thomas Robert Malthus played a central role.  Smith’s ‘solution’ could not survive the changed circumstances of the transition to industrial capitalism.  The disintegration of his system was therefore inevitable.  Equally inevitable were the efforts of both apologists for and critics of early industrial capitalism to base their arguments on that work which held sway over the entire field of political economy—the Wealth of Nations.”

—David McNally, Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique, 1993


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