Sunday, 24 July 2016

The beginning of British economics?

An interesting comment from Beer (1938: 86-7):
In 1581, a certain W.S., into the personality of which it is irrelevant to inquire, brought out a quarto volume under the tide A Briefe Conceipte of Inglish Policie, which may be regarded as the beginning of British political economy: The treatise was reprinted in 1751, 1808, 1813. 1876 by various publishers, one of whom thought to have discovered under the letters W.S. the name of William Shakespeare. In 1893 it was edited under the title A Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm of England, by Miss Elizabeth Lamond. The editing may serve as a model for such literary ventures, though not easily imitated or duplicated. She sent the book out with an introduction-the product of vast researches-proving with a certainty which is all but absolute that it was John Hales (a member of Parliament in 1548, a member of the Commission on Enclosures in I 549, a promoter of learning, a reformer imbued with warm sympathy for the dispossessed peasantry) who wrote it in 1549 (Emphasis added).
I must say its the first time I have seen such a claim. I don't recall any other historian of economic thought arguing that it is the start of British economics. That said, no lesser historian of thought than Lionel Robbins does say that it is "highly readable" and that it contains the first statement of the quantity theory of money. Robbins also argues that it is unlikely that John Hales is the author of the work. He argues that the author is Sir Thomas Smith (Robbins 1998: 42-3).

  • Beer, M. (1938). Early British Economics: From the Thirteenth to the Middle of the Eighteenth Century, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
  • Robbins, Lionel (1998). A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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