JS Mill: The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle

JS Mill: The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle

Filed under: economics

One comment

  1. This is not from J.S. Mill’s work on economics “Principles of Political Economy”, it is from J.S. Mill’s “On Liberty” – so it should filed under “Political Philosophy” not “Economics”.

    Still it should still be examined. For example if Mr Mill meant “an aggression against”, or a “violation of” by “harm” – as with the basic principle of the Common Law, why did he not say so? Why the vague word “harm”? In “On Liberty” Mr Mill also says that rules concerning people selling things are a different matter morally from rules concerning people buying things – which is baffling. There is also his mention of free trade in On Liberty – Mr Mill is supportive, but says it is a different principle from the general principle of liberty (it is not).

    Still, all that being said, “On Liberty” is a vastly better book than “Principles of Political Economy” – the latter book defends the labour theory of value (worse than that – it pretends that there is no opposition to the theory, deliberately ignoring a vast amount of work even by English speaking economists of the period) and talks about a distribution problem, that does not in fact exist. However, to be fair to Mr Mill he is not inventing new errors in economics he is just carrying on the errors of his father (James Mill) and family friend David Ricardo – it was perfectly natural for J.S. Mill to do that, and the only blame that should attach to him is the pretence that everyone agreed with these doctrines, which they did not. Indeed the influence of Mr Mill (in removing critics of his father’s economics from public attention) lasted till the late 19th century. Refutation of such things as the Labour Theory of Value and the Ricardian theory on LAND (a very important matter for J.S. Mill and the other Westminster Review people) had to wait for the generation of Carl Menger and Frank Fetter. The British (and other) economists who had attacked such things in the early 19th century were forgotten – largely because of the success of Mr Mill’s campaign to pretend they did not exist.

    “On Liberty” is very different from “Principles of Political Economy” – it is indeed a work that is still worth reading today.

Leave a Reply