Imagens das páginas
[blocks in formation]



Supplement, March, 1894.

[blocks in formation]


Ever since men have lived in society the observers among them have been gathering economic notions, and some of the most elementary, such as that scarcity enhances value, have been well known since the earliest times. But it was not until the eighteenth century that an attempt was made to gather these notions into a philosophy, to construct an Economic Science. This first attempt, which resulted in the so-called Physiocratic school, was not a happy one. I shall not enumerate its errors here; others have done this. It is of more modern times that I wish to speak. We ought, however, to note that the Physiocrats merit recognition for striving to base Economic Science on the nature of things, for having seen that the relations among men are influenced by various causes and that an economic cause just as surely as a physical cause, is followed by its effect.

The English who had had occasion to correlate various economic phenomena adopted what was good in the system of the Physiocrats; Adam Smith remodeled the doctrine,

eliminating its chief errors. Ricardo, Malthus and others added their theories, and when the young Economic Science, thus recast and improved, returned to France, J. B. Say added some complementary notions and gave it form, method and clearness. Political Economy now spread much more rapidly and made for itself a place in the scientific world and soon in the political world also.

Up to that time it had not occurred to any one to consider Economics as a stationary science, for it was obviously changing constantly. It continued to advance and develop, however, until no one longer hesitated to consider that the science was established. The fundamental principles had been found, it remained only to discover how those principles were to be applied in the various problems which might confront the State and Society.

The many writers who were the contemporaries, and especially the successors of J. B. Say, were substantially agreed as to principles, for they were followers of the same masters; but they were much less in accord in regard to practice, and these differences of view would have been sufficient to prevent stagnation in the economic world by giving rise to discussion. There were dissenters, however, to be found during the whole period. I cite only Sismondi among the economists. There were the socialists-St. Simon, Fourier, the phalansterian, Pierre Leroux, later Louis Blanc and Proudhon, and finally, last but not least, there were the protectionists. For it was with these last that the struggle was fiercest and longest, and it was, perhaps, this very struggle which seemed to create about the middle of this century a family bond among the French economists. It was the exigencies of practice which gave a great and peculiar importance to the question of free exchange, and have made more than one of the writers of the time believe that political economy was purely and simply the theory of free trade. But this was a singular belittling of its scope and dimensions. One had only to open one of the treatises or manuals of the time to see that Economic

« AnteriorContinuar »