The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Tatsuya Sakamoto; Hideo Tanaka | Go to book overview

8

Adam Smith's politics of taxation: reconsideration of the image of 'Civilized Society' in theWealth ofNations

Keiichi Watanabe

Donald Winch's Adam Smith's Politics (1978) was an epoch-making work, in which he dismissed the traditional interpretation of Adam Smith's political thought. In particular, Winch examined in a refreshing manner what was alleged to be Smith's view of economic liberalism and cheap government. As illustrated by the works of McNally (1988), Dwyer (1992) and Fitzgibbons (1995), revisionist interpretations of Smith have advanced steadily ever since Winch wrote, being prompted by an extensive study of the Scottish Enlightenment. The three main Smith texts that are useful for discussing his politics and political thought are The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), The Lectures on Jurisprudence (Reports of 1762-63 and 1763-64, LJ hereafter) and The Wealth of Nations (1776, WN hereafter). Except for some parts of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Book V of WN is the most important text regarding Smith's Politics, because it is the sole document in which Smith published his arguments concerning government or politics in a complete form.

A careful review of the studies on Smith's politics from Winch onwards reveals that their main focus in Book V of WN has been exclusively on Chapter 1, 'expenses', and Chapter 3, 'publick debts', while scarce attention has been drawn to Chapter 2, 'taxation'. However, since Book V deals with Smith's argument on government and is entitled 'Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth', a more adequate emphasis should be placed on that chapter. This paper seeks to analyse the theory of taxation in WN in light of the historical context of eighteenth-century Britain and to re-examine how Adam Smith understood the 'civilized society' of that day from the viewpoint of taxation. In particular I will focus on the political implications of Smith's doctrine of tax incidence.


Smith's analytical view of taxation

Chapter 2 of Book V of WN begins with a confirmation of the tax state in the modern age:

The private revenue of individuals, it has been shown in the first book of this inquiry, arises ultimately from three different sources: Rent, Profit, and

-119-

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