Three Essays on Adam Smith and the "Corruption Debate"

Dylan Dellisanti

Advisor: Daniel B Klein, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Peter J Boettke, Donald J Boudreaux, Thomas Merrill

Buchanan Hall, #D180
April 24, 2019, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Economists commonly think of Smith in relation to the mercantilist and physiocratic thinkers that he rightly corrected. In this light, Smith is remembered for helping us understand the causes of economic growth. But Smith also engaged in another debate – the "Corruption Debate." Here, Smith considers the nature of economic growth in relation to human nature – or, whether economic growth is good for our moral development.

The first chapter, "Innovation, Discovery, and the Tumult of Liberalism: An Esoteric Interpretation of Adam Smith," explores the seemingly small place for entrepreneurship and innovation in Smith's Wealth of Nations and argues that Smith purposefully downplayed the role of innovation.

The second chapter, "Moral Innovation and the Man within the Breast," argues that any one individual's man within the breast – though a product of social construction – is not wholly determined by the "community" that the individual resides in. The individual's ability to construct her man within the breast takes on special significance in commercial societies as individuals will be able to draw upon more diverse influences than in traditional societies. 

Chapter three, "'Proper Objects'": From Vanity to Virtue in Adam Smith" explores Smith's account of vanity and his optimistic attitude about moral development in commercial society.