One of Adam Smith’s maxims was that ‘Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality. For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many’. Indeed, it wasn’t only Marx and Lenin who felt that the primary function of the state was to facilitate the accumulation of capital for ‘the principal architects of policy’, as Smith termed the elite; while at the same time mediating resultant class conflict. Not often mentioned by economists is the fact that Smith, like many other Enlightenment figures, had similar things to say. In his words: ‘The acquisition of valuable land and extensive property…necessarily requires the establishment of civil government. Where there is no property, or at least none that exceeds the value of two or three days labour, civil government is not so necessary’. Clearly then, he felt that one of the central roles of the state was to mediate class conflict resulting from the disproportionate levels of ownership related to property. Should we expect then that NAMA will do anything other than serve ‘as a mechanism to transfer wealth from the general population to themselves [the financial sector]’ in the words of Joseph Stiglitz referring specifically to the proposed Irish remedies for the banking crisis?

Enda Murphy

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