On Adam Smith's linen shirt

One of us recently bought a linen shirt. OK, it wasn’t top of the line, from one of the Inditex brands. It was also in a sale but then it was also £4.

Adam Smith uses the example of a linen shirt. His point being that one can live just fine without one. Yet if you’re in a society where not being able to afford one marks you out as poor, then in that society, if you cannot afford a linen shirt, then you are poor by the standards of that society.

The point here being that back then a linen shirt was an investment, something that one would consider - on labourer’s wages - the cost of. Substantial numbers of people would not be able to afford one. Today? It is possible to buy a new one for around half an hour of minimum wage labour.

It’s still, quite obviously, true that some people have more than others. But Smith’s specific example of relative poverty doesn’t really work in a rich world society today. Which is a useful measure of how far this capitalism and free markets mixture has brought us, no?