Monday, March 08, 2010

The hand not so invisible

For all those of us who are generally too busy to read The Wealth of Nations before deploying Adam Smith in public discussion, here's a handy bulleted list of the areas of public life (hat tip to Economist's View) in which this otherwise laissez-faire thinker thought it appropriate for governments to get involved:
  • Sterling marks on plate and stamps on linen and woollen cloth
  • Enforcement of contracts by a system of justice
  • Wages to be paid in money, not goods;
  • Regulations of paper money in banking
  • Obligations to build party walls to prevent the spread of fire
  • The Navigation Acts, blessed by Smith under the assertion that ‘defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence’
  • Rights of farmers to send farm produce to the best market (except ‘only in the most urgent necessity’)
  • ‘Premiums and other encouragements to advance the linen and woollen industries’
  • ‘Police’, or preservation of the ‘cleanliness of roads, streets, and to prevent the bad effects of corruption and putrifying substances’;
  • Ensuring the ‘cheapness or plenty [of provisions]’
  • Patrols by town guards and fire fighters to watch for hazardous accidents
  • erecting and maintaining certain public works and public institutions intended to facilitate commerce (roads, bridges, canals and harbours)
  • Coinage and the mint
  • The Post office
  • Regulation of institutions, such as company structures (joint- stock companies, co-partneries, regulated companies and so on)
  • Temporary monopolies, including copyright and patents, of fixed duration
  • Education of youth (‘village schools’, curriculum design and so on)
  • Education of people of all ages (tythes or land tax)
  • Encouragement of ‘the frequency and gaiety of publick diversions’
  • The prevention of ‘leprosy or any other loathsome and offensive disease’ from spreading among the population
  • Encouragement of martial exercises
  • Registration of mortgages for land, houses and boats over two tons
  • Government restrictions on interest for borrowing (usury laws) to overcome investor ‘stupidity’
  • Laws against banks issuing low-denomination promissory notes
  • Natural liberty may be breached if individuals ‘endanger the security of the whole society’
  • Limiting ‘free exportation of corn’ only ‘in cases of the most urgent necessity’ (‘dearth’ turning into ‘famine’)
  • Moderate export taxes on wool exports for government revenue.


scott said...

Damn Marxist!

Mark said...

Doesn't sound laissez faire to me. Is there any part of life he believes government should NOT regulate? That list would have been shorter.