Basic Economic Liberties: John Rawls and Adam Smith Reconciled
33 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2020
Date Written: May 9, 2020
The moral status of economic liberty is a critical point of contention within liberal theory. Classical liberals, including Tomasi, suggest that economic activity is fundamental for exercising personal autonomy and its protection to be to the overall benefit of all persons. By contrast, egalitarian liberals, following Rawls, argue that economic activity is not a sufficiently significant site of moral development. Drawing on contemporary interpretations of Adam Smith, I argue that commercial practices cultivate attitudes of mutual trust and respect in a way that is unique and necessary for developing the moral powers. Although they need not be universally exercised, basic economic liberties must be available to all. While rejecting laissez-faire, this case suggests that well-ordered societies must protect a substantial degree of commercial activity as part of the basic structure.
Keywords: liberalism, markets, Rawls, Adam Smith, moral powers, economic liberty
JEL Classification: B12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation