(OPTIMISM, ADAM SMITH, LIBERALS and UTOPIANS – continued)
One of Smith's followers was Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), an Englishman twenty-five years younger than Smith. With Smith he stood apart from those preaching the benefits of self-denial. He wanted betterment for common people and put a political and democratic spin on Smith's economics, describing everyone as best judge as to his own advantage. He advocated legislating laws that protected common people from criminal offenses and also advocated legislating laws that created fire departments and agencies to fight diseases. He favored government stimulating the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges and the like. And he believed that laws should be passed that provided people with guarantees against starvation. In response to those who were supporting the status quo with talk about natural law, a contract between ruler and ruled, and liberty, in his book Principles of Morals and Legislation, he asked, What liberty? And liberty for whom? Laws, Bentham believed, should be made for "the greatest good for the greatest number" – a point that was labeled utilitarianism. Bentham was popular among people in Europe, and he was influential in the United States. His point of view won him recognition in France as a citizen in 1792, the third year of the French Revolution.
Another Englishman influenced by Smith was David Ricardo (1772-1823). Smith had focused on benefits to society as a whole, without favor to people of different economic classes. Ricardo expanded on the benefits of free trade. If Portugal was more efficient producing wine than England and England more efficient in producing cloth, it was in the interest of both if they traded rather than have Portugal erect a barrier against English cloth for the sake of its own cloth industry and Britain erect a barrier for the sake of its own wine industry. This has been called the theory of comparative advantage, which Ricardo wrote about in his 1817 book The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.
Ricardo was a successful stockbroker and a man of wealth who dabbled in economic theory, and he focused on conflicting interests among people of different ecoomic classes. He was influenced by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), a British clergyman and economist. Malthus wrote an Essay on the Principles of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society – published in 1798. Malthus proposed that increasing amounts of food would be accompanied by increasing rises in population, leaving common people always on the edge of insufficient food. Ricardo combined Smith's view of economics with this view of common people barely surviving.
In his Principles of Political Economy, published in 1817, Ricardo described people pursuing their individual advantage as beneficial to the economy but he saw increases in population as allowing employers to bid wages lower. He theorized that the price of food was always rising and that industrialists frequently had to raise wages to the level that allowed their workers to survive. Ricardo saw the economy as favoring those who charged rent. He saw wage earners as struggling on subsistence wages, industrialists having to pay higher wages for the subsistence of their workers, in addition to rent, while landlords were lolling about in comfort and gaining all the reward.
James Mill (1773-1836) was a Scotsman who became one of Britain's leading liberals. He began his career as a scholar of Greek. Then he became a journalist, historian, philosopher and an economist. He was Jeremy Bentham's friend and ally in support of democracy. Mill was critical of Britain's governance in India, and his three volumes titled the History of British India, published in 1817, resulted in changing British rule there. His Elements of Political Economy was published in 1821. Following his contemporary, Ricardo, he considered population growth as a problem, and he proposed that the value of a commodity depended in part upon the amount of labor that went into producing it.
The son of James Mill, John Stuart Mill (1806-73), followed his father's liberal leanings. In his book On Liberty, published in 1859, John Stuart Mill tempered his support for democracy with a concern about the rights of individuals to express unpopular opinions. He proposed that politics advance the ability of people to pursue self-development and individuality, and in this he also supported women's rights. In economics he emphasized the importance of production and scarcity rather than distribution. He saw the production of commodities from nature's scarcities as the biggest challenge. He saw the distribution of produced goods as governed merely by culture. He favored government involvement in the economy but rejected socialism. He believed that economic activity based on private property and the free market had not yet been adequately tried. Some struggle and challenge, he believed, would work better than would the product of a dream of a blissful economic utopia.
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