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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

The Debate on Economic and Social Security in the Late Eighteenth Century: Lessons of a Road Not Taken

The point of this essay is to look at ideas of social development — including the social security and social integration of the poor — in the political economy of the late 18th century, and at their reflection in subsequent laissez-faire economics. The cruel reputation of political economy is quite undeserved, the author suggests, in relation to Adam Smith, and to his most distinguished followers in the period before the French Revolution. Social development, in their writings, was not inimical to but rather a condition for the development of commerce. The flint-hearted view of society, in which men and women are surrounded only by incentives, and inspired only by fear, was an innovation of the decade after Smith’s death in 1790, and of the period of intense fright that followed the French Revolution.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 May 1995
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD