Saturday, August 10, 2013
The Millian supremacy
Thus, by the intellectual authority derived from decades of personal and family prominence and by his work on logic, by force of personality, and by clever strategems employed in his book, John Stuart Mill was able to make his Principles of Political Economy the dominant force in British economics from the time of initial publication in 1848. For three decades, Mill and his Principles bestrode British economics like a colossus, and, as we shall see in a later volume, England managed to repulse the marginalist Jevonian revolution in the 1870s, at least in its original, undiluted form. Mill had managed to fasten upon Great Britain: a watered-down labour or at least cost-of-produc-tion theory of value; a muddled positivist method that gave hostage to inductivist or even organicist critics; a devotion to the gold standard offset by an inflationist, banking school theory of crises and cycles and of gold production, and an adherence to the status quo of inflationist Bank of England control and manipulation of the British monetary system. In fact, in every area, John Stuart Mill reimposed the system of Ricardo and his father, but in a far more muddled and diluted manner. In public policy, too, the old Ricardian devotion to laissez-faire was replaced by a vague free market presumption to which Mill and his followers were always willing to make extensive exceptions, so free were they of the earlier classical and Ricardian ‘dogmatism’. Intellectually, however wrong-headed most of the Ricardianism had been, its positions were at least consistent and clear – even if the reasoning supporting those conclusions was generally tangled and incoherent. But the new Millian neo-Ricardianism had no such virtues; instead, this system was essentially an elusive and self-contradictory jumble. There were no clear-cut positions, only vague tendencies, hedged around by backsliding and qualifications. But British economics was now slowly becoming more centred in academics rather than in businessmen, bankers, or eccentric army officers, and academics and their constituencies all too often confuse contradictory wavering with complexity, wisdom, and judiciousness of mind.