This is an actual discussion thread from an online social justice class that I had to take while working on my bachelor’s degree.
1) Although Adam Smith rejects the government’s role in the market, he does nonetheless see a role for the government. What does Adam Smith think the proper role of government is? What should the government do/provide? Can you imagine a scenario in which in order to do one of the things that Smith believes the government should do, the government would necessarily have to interfere in the marketplace? How do you reconcile this seeming contradiction?
Adam Smith held that the proper role of government is to enable individuals to work in their own self interest with the invisible guiding hand of the free market. He was pretty good with the preamble, which says to PROVIDE for the common defense and PROMOTE the general welfare. He would not have been comfortable with what we know of today as the welfare state, as it is not sufficiently voluntary. The idea of an income tax is not only likely to have vexed him, but did so much (along with many of his contemporaries) that it was expressly forbidden in the constitution and required an amendment to implement.
As to the last two questions… no. There is nothing that the government can do better than the market place. There is no contradiction to reconcile. There are many things that we have come to expect the government to do, but none that are its exclusive province. We do not even have to give hard consideration to this question. At present, there is no function of the government that is not also performed by private industry at a better price and to better result. This is true of schools, hospitals, police, roads, military, and even the writing of law. The only exception to this last statement is in the actual passage of law, but only because it has been made unlawful for it to be done otherwise in this nation.
I want to jump in here. Smith was Scottish and not involved with the drafting of the American Constitution. I want to make sure that is clear.
I don’t feel that we have a good handle on Smith’s ideas yet. So I want to get back to the original question, what are the three things Smith believes the government should do? In doing one of these things, would it be imaginable that the government would have to engage with the marketplace?
To be clear, I understand that Smith was not one of our drafters, but his work was influential to his contemporaries as it only predated the drafting by a little more than a decade and was still very much in vogue at the time of drafting. This work was highly considered by the founders and was referenced in the letters around the drafting. It was directly influential in the drafting so much so that considerations of disallowing the government to lay tax against property was included in the very first article along with the formulation of the congress. So strictly was this prohibition on direct taxes detailed that it required a constitutional amendment for the formation of such taxes and that was delayed by resistance for more than a century.
In reading wealth of nations Smith lists several functions, but they all boil down to the public defense (national security, police, and courts to enforce contracts between agents), the collection of revenue (mainly through tariffs), the regulation of monies and the enforcement of wages paid therein rather than in barter, and the building of roads and bridges and the like (to facilitate commerce). Certainly, the government must engage the market in order to do these things, but the original question was as to whether the government must interfere with the market. To this I stand by my original answer.
The Professor Quits;
Good! We have the three things now. Christopher does not believe that in order to do these three things the government may interfere in the marketplace. What do others think? Again, I encourage you to think through what the government may need to do in order to accomplish one of these three responsibilities. Could there be a conflict?
No one else engaged the material. She is fishing for someone to show that there is a conflict and that the government MUST interfere (control, manipulate, centrally plan… etc.). Ahh… the SJW stooge in its natural habitat.