Principles of Political Economy by John Stuart MillThe standard economics textbook for more than a generation, John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (1848) was really as much a synthesis of his predecessors’ ideas as it was an original economic treatise. Heavily influenced by the work of David Ricardo, and also taking ideas from Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus, Mill systematically demonstrated how important economic concepts could be applied to real-world situations. In his emphasis on realism, Mill thus took economics out of the realm of the abstract and placed it squarely within the context of society.
For instance, he made a convincing case that wages, rent, and profit are not necessarily the expression of immutable laws that are independent of society. Rather, they are in actuality the results of social institutions and as such can be changed if the members of a society move to break traditional institutional habits. Reflecting his utilitarian social philosophy, Mill suggested that social improvements are always possible. He thus proposed modifying a purely laissez faire system, advocating trade protectionism and regulation of employees’ work hours for the benefit of domestic industries and workers’ well-being. In such features he displayed a leaning toward socialism.
In summing up his objective for this massive work, Mill said later in his Autobiography (1873) that he wished to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour. For anyone with an interest in the history of economics or the history of ideas, this landmark work of classical economics makes for stimulating and in many respects still very relevant reading.
Principles of Political Economy (J.S. Mill, 1871), vol. 1
John Stuart Mill originally wrote the Principles of Political Economy, with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy very quickly, having studied economics under the rigorous tutelage of his father, James, since his youth. It was published in London: John W. The edition presented here is that prepared by W. Ashley followed the 7th edition with great care, noting changes in the editions in footnotes and in occasional square brackets within the text. The text provides English translations to several lengthy quotations originally quoted by Mill in French. A few corrections of obvious typos were made for this website edition.
Principles of Political Economy by John Stuart Mill was one of the most important economics or political economy textbooks of the mid-nineteenth century. Mill's sympathetic attitude in this work and in other essays toward contemporary socialism, particularly Fourierism , earned him esteem from the working class as one of their intellectual champions. Mill's Principles were written in a style of prose far flung from the introductory texts of today. Devoid of the mathematical graphs and formulae that were only developed after his death, principally by Alfred Marshall , Mill wrote with the rich tone of grandeur that is found in all his books. His book continued to be used well into the twentieth century as the foundational textbook, for instance in Oxford University until
Principles of Political Economy
The appearance of a treatise like the present, on a subject on which so many works of merit already exist, may be thought to require some explanation. It might, perhaps, be sufficient to say, that no existing treatise on Political Economy contains the latest improvements which have been made in the theory of the subject. Many new ideas, and new applications of ideas, have been elicited by the discussions of the last few years, especially those on Currency, on Foreign Trade, and on the important topics connected more or less intimately with Colonization: and there seems reason that the field of Political Economy should be re-surveyed in its whole extent, if only for the purpose of incorporating the results of these speculations, and bringing them into harmony with the principles previously laid down by the best thinkers on the subject. To supply, however, these deficiencies in former treatises bearing a similar title, is not the sole, or even the principal object which the author has in view. The design of the book is different from that of any treatise on Political Economy which has been produced in England since the work of Adam Smith. This of itself implies a much wider range of ideas and of topics, than are included in Political Economy, considered as a branch of abstract speculation. For practical purposes, Political Economy is inseparably intertwined with many other branches of social philosophy.