George Mason University professor of economics Daniel Klein has asked me to post this.

First, a little background. Dan noted a passage from Andy Smarick at our sister publication Law and Liberty. Smarick, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote, “Who Will Lead Us?Law and Liberty, June 3, 2024.

Here’s the passage:

[O]ur Framers continuously noted the importance of virtue in the maintenance of a republic. George Washington wrote in his farewell address, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” John Adams wrote, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue” and “public virtue is the only foundation of republics.” Benjamin Rush argued, “Without virtue there can be no liberty.” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” James Madison wrote, “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” And Samuel Adams argued, “He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”

Dan then commented, “May we include Adam Smith as an honorary founding father?” Dan pointed out that in The Theory of Moral Sentiments he wrote:

What institution of government could tend so much to promote the happiness of mankind as the general prevalence of wisdom and virtue? All government is but an imperfect remedy for the deficiency of these. Whatever beauty, therefore, can belong to civil government upon account of its utility, must in a far superior degree belong to these. On the contrary, what civil policy can be so ruinous and destructive as the vices of men? The fatal effects of bad government arise from nothing, but that it does not sufficiently guard against the mischiefs which human wickedness gives occasion to.

I agree with all that. I also want to point out, though, that markets often give a strong incentive for people to be virtuous. I wrote a whole chapter on this in my 2001 book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey.