The true cause and relief of famines – according to Adam Smith

What is the real cause of a famine? A bad season perhaps, or greedy grain speculators. No, for Adam Smith,

a famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of government attempting, by improper means, to remedy the inconveniencies of a dearth.

In fact, those silly farmers and wasteful workers who complain of bad seasons are really not making the best use of their resources:

the scantiest crop, if managed with frugality and economy, will maintain, through the year, the same number of people that are commonly fed in a more affluent manner by one of moderate plenty.

But if you have a real famine, then the solution is simply to let the grain merchants and speculators loose:

The unlimited, unrestrained freedom of the corn trade, as it is the only effectual preventative of the miseries of a famine, so it is the best palliative of the inconveniencies of a dearth (Wealth of Nations, IV.v.b.5-7)

Ah, those dreadfully sinful, interfering governments.


2 thoughts on “The true cause and relief of famines – according to Adam Smith

  1. Though Adam Smith was talked about a lot when I went through high school we never actually read him, and its surprising to how aristocratic his thought was and just how little content (at least empirically) his writings had. I understand where people like Mises, Ayn Rand, Hayek, and Friedman come from a bit more now.

    It does make me appreciate people like Seymour Melman who at least bothered to talk and meet with the workers and mangers though he is unfortunately known more his anti-war writings instead of his anti-capitalist/anti-managerial works like Decision Making and Productivity or After Capitalism: From Managerialism to Workplace Democracy.

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