Monthly Archives: May 2024

Before Political Economy

Since early 2020 I have been working with Gauthier Lanot on a review of English agrarian development in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with a focus upon price and labour regulation – aka the Corn Laws and the Poor Laws. There is a considerable amount of modern commentary on this period, and in order to lend more focus to our efforts we identified the two successive “harvest years” beginning September 1794 and September 1795 as a base line from which later discussion developed. As we show, at this time the doctrines of political economy soon to be associated with Malthus, Mill and Ricardo not only had no purchase; they did not yet exist. Adam Smith’s own account of the grain trade in Wealth of Nations looked back to conditions in the first half of the eighteenth century, and so could not provide any point of orientation for the special conditions of a rising population and a wartime economy. Of course, during the first two decades of the nineteenth century the kinds of arguments we are familiar with today about pauperism, profits and population did begin to develop. But by examining this period “before political economy” we hope to provide a new perspective upon these later arguments: