Is It Just to Pursue Honest Income?

Forthcoming, Economic Affairs

20 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2019 Last revised: 25 Aug 2019

See all articles by Daniel B. Klein

Daniel B. Klein

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: July 17, 2019


Is it just to pursue honest income? Certainly it’s commutatively just. But is it a becoming use of one’s own? Is it distributively just? Presumptively, yes. The burden of proof should be on the one who denies that someone’s pursuit of honest income is distributively just. Drawing closely on Adam Smith, I argue for that presumption. I treat focal points and price signals: If you think prices are imperfect signals for universal benevolence, just think how imperfect the other signals are! Virtues are swallowed up by self-interest as rivers are lost in the sea, said La Rochefoucauld. We come to the commercial humanism Smith constructed, including his invisible parable of the poor man’s son, producing the Great Enrichment. Cameos are made by Humphrey Bogart and caveats to our maxim that it is presumptively just to pursue honest income.

Keywords: invisible hand, price signals, self-interest, markets, virtue, wisdom

JEL Classification: A10, A13, B12

Suggested Citation

Klein, Daniel B., Is It Just to Pursue Honest Income? (July 17, 2019). Forthcoming, Economic Affairs, Available at SSRN:

Daniel B. Klein (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Fairfax, VA 22030
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George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

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United States

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