Adam Smith on Happiness, Welfare, Inequality and the State

Templeton Fellow Professor Lisa Hill of the University of Adelaide delivered her lecture at the University of Chile on Adam Smith, happiness, welfare and inequality.

Professor Hill began by depicting a time of tumultuous social and economic change, during which Adam Smith sought to understand how the success of modern commercial societies should be properly understood and measured. In doing so, she explained, Smith re-defined the concept of national welfare and the whole idea of a successful state. These new conceptions are reflected in his solutions to the most pressing problems of inequality and disadvantage of this time: the alleviation of poverty, food insecurity, class exploitation, declining levels of education and slavery. These were all cases that tested the limits of his faith in both markets and the interventionist state.

In the process, Smith shows that he was less libertarian and laissez-faire than is commonly allowed but also less progressive than some scholars have suggested. Indeed, Smith's approach was fraught with tensions and even contradictions. Nevertheless, concluded Professor Hill, Adam Smith can still be characterized as a thinker broadly committed to the free market, commercial society and the class system.  

Professor Hill said:

Centuries after his passing, Adam Smith continues to offer us wisdom and insight into how best to manage human welfare in mass societies. His thought was subtle, complex, layered and often prescient, so much so that we are still discovering new things about him."

Watch the Full Lecture on YouTube