Classical Economists The

Classical Economists The

Classical Economists, the academics and men of affairs, philosophers and economists, Englishmen and Scotsmen who between 1750 and 180 formulated the principles of the new science of economics and the theory of economic policy which it yielded. The most prominent were David Hume, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, Robert Torrens, Nassau Senior, John McCulloch, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham and John Elliot Cairnes.

For many years in the nineteenth and twentieth century's historians and political theorists, such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the Hammonds, C. D. H. Cole and others, regarded them as apologists for the developing system of industrial capitalism and for the widespread pauperism and large profits that went with it. Some commentators went further and discredited them as the tools of industrialists and the opponents of social reform, and claimed that they preached the system of laissez-faire in which the state stood aside and allowed the strong to dominate the weak. A different interpretation of their writings and the policy they advocated has been outlined in the writings of Lord Robbins, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Wilhelm Ropke, W. H. Hutt and others. This view is that the dominant impression given by the writings of the classical economists that they were opposed to government al action in principle and in favour of complete freedom in economic activity must be explained by the circumstances of the time: they were essentially reformers writing to expose the defects of the restrictive mercantilist institutions and habits of thought which lingered from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were concerned with current political controversies and were addressing themselves to their contemporaries, not to posterity. It was natural, therefore, that they should emphasize the liberating aspect of their theories. But their writings show that they contemplated not laissez-faire, in the sense of non-interference by Government in economic activity, but an active state in which man-made laws and institutions enabled the market economy to work to the social advantage.

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Since then his writings have in turn been increasingly reinterpreted as a special case both by some followers and by some economists who had not wholly accepted his writings. The content of economics is in a state of change, and this site is therefore not a final statement of economic doctrine.

Economics is in the last resort a technique of thinking. The reader will therefore need to make an intellectual effort, more substantial for some web entries than for others, to get the most interest and value out of this website.