Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gibbon on the unequal distribution of property

I'm reading Vol. I of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and whilst discussing Roman taste in terms of the expanse of their empire, he says this:

"But in the present imperfect condition of our society, luxury, though it may proceed from vice or folly, seems to be the only means that can correct the unequal distribution of property. The diligent mechanic, and the skilful artist, who have obtained no share in the division of the earth, receive a volutary tax from the posessors of land; and the latter are prompted, by a sense of interest, to improve those estates, with whose produce they may purchase additional pleasures."

Wow! Although his comment on the "present imperfect condition of our society" may imply that he's a bit of a socialist utopianist (like Godwin or Popper), he does recognise that free trade and self-interest are what solve problems like poverty.