ABSTRACT

‘Considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator’, Adam Smith wrote in the Wealth of Nations, political economy proposes two distinct objects: first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign. The problem was not, of course, original to Smith: it has long been one of the staples of economic writing. The terms in which Smith’s Scottish predecessors had come to grips with the problem were, as he have argued elsewhere, the terms of the civil tradition. Faced with Smith’s own word on the relation of the Wealth of Nations and its ‘political economy’ to his greater design, my challenge to the jurisprudential approach again needs careful qualification.