An End to Poverty? A Historical Debate

Gareth Stedman Jones, Author
Gareth Stedman Jones, Author . Columbia Univ. $29.50 (278p) ISBN 978-0-231-13782-9
Reviewed on: 08/15/2005
Release date: 11/01/2005
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-231-13783-6
Paperback - 278 pages - 978-1-86197-729-8
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Whether poverty is a social ill, an individual failing or an unavoidable byproduct of economic progress is a still-roiling controversy. This engaging study examines the unfolding of the debate in Europe from the late 18th century to the beginning of WWI. Cambridge University political scientist Jones grounds his treatment in the ideas of Adam Smith, whom he wishes to reclaim from free-market fundamentalists. Influenced by Smith's writings and emboldened by the French Revolution, Jones contends, visionaries Thomas Paine and Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet offered groundbreaking proposals for universal social insurance and public education that they felt would eradicate poverty and strengthen the equality and personal independence Smith's free, commercial society demanded. Reactionary opponents of social equality and liberal enthusiasts of industrial capitalism invoked Smith against such proposals, Jones observes. Malthusian theorists, for instance, argued that social insurance encouraged improvidence and overbreeding among the poor, and laissez-faire economists objected to efforts to shield workers from competition and mechanization as obstacles to progress and prosperity. In reconstructing this debate, the author hopes to furnish a respectable non-Marxist rationale for modern social democracy. Whether or not the hitherto obscure Paine/Condorcet tendency inspires present-day social democrats, Jones offers a lucid, erudite exploration of a fertile topic in European intellectual history. (Nov.)

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