Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

The argument that unfree labour is unproductive in Cameralist discourse before Adam Smith

Seppel Marten, University of Tartu

The paper will argue that even before Adam Smith German cameralists were convinced that the burdens of servitude and a lack of property made the peasantry apathetic. Cameralists were also the first who spoke out against serfdom in economic terms. Cameralists like Becher, Justi, Scharnweber, Heß, Eisen were in favour of the freeing of serfs, and emphasized the importance of the property rights of the peasants as a central means of making the peasants more productive. Serfdom was seen as an institution that impeded the advancement of welfare and happiness. The paper will not suggest that Adam Smith borrowed his arguments from the German cameralist literature (besides absorbing similar thoughts from Physiocratic literature). Instead, it shows that Adam Smith's exaltation of private property, self-interest and his lack of belief in the productivity of unfree labour (Book III, chap. 2) were already widely acknowledged principles in Germany before Adam Smith became well-known.


Keywords: Cameralism, Adam Smith, serfdom, productivity,

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