Adam Smith: Egalitarian or anti-egalitarian?: His responses to Hume and Rousseau's critiques of inequality

Satoshi Niimura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - There has been controversy about whether Adam Smith is an economic egalitarian because he expresses at least four distinct views on equality, in two of which, he approves of inequality, and in the other two, he claims otherwise. The purpose of this paper is to isolate and consider these four views carefully to understand Smith's complete position on equality. Design/methodology/approach - The paper examines Smith's apparently contradictory views on equality as his evolving response to Hume and Rousseau's critiques of inequality. Findings - Hume and Rousseau criticize any income inequality that is disproportionate to industry between the rich and poor. Smith's response to their critiques evolves over time. In his initial response in early writings, he defends inequality in a civilized society by comparing it with a poor primitive society. However, in his later response in The Wealth of Nations, he eventually accepts Hume and Rousseau's critiques of inequality. According to Smith, an equal and opulent society will evolve. A primitive society is equal but poor. In contrast, an existing civilized society is opulent but unequal. In each society, equality and opulence are incompatible. However, Smith believes that a future civilized society will fully achieve both equality and opulence. Originality/value - The paper analyses both historically and theoretically the comprehensive structure of Smith's egalitarian views.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-903
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Social Economics
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Adam Smith
  • David Hume
  • Distributive justice
  • Egalitarian
  • Equality
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Social Sciences(all)


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