The Coming of Age of Political Economy, 1815-1825

By Gary F. Langer | Go to book overview

6
Money and Distress

Political Economy is making rapid progress in this country. Everyday correct principles advance . . . The proceedings in parliament last sessions gave great satisfaction to the friends of the science. The true principles of currency were at length solemnly recognized; and I should hope we never again can go astray.

Ricardo to Say ( 11 January 1820)1

The period 1815-1825 was one of lively controversy over a great many issues having to do with the operation of the monetary system. Judging from the number of pamphlets and review articles devoted to it, money was the most discussed economic topic of the age. It was also a topic, as this chapter will try to show, in connection to which political economy and the political economists obtained a great deal of notoriety. Moreover, it was a topic in regard to which the authority of political economy as a science became very influential. The expert advice of political economists was attentively listened to by social paragons the likes of the Duke of Wellington, and the effort to reason about money consistently with sound principles of political economy became a goal pursued in the highest circles of the ruling class. The politically ascendent Robert Peel became a public convert to the Ricardian position.

The topic also notably provoked a scientific heresy on the part of several-- some, like Malthus, with close connections to the tradition. In response to such heresies, an orthodoxy formed around the Ricardians in opposition to the heretics. The government, as noted, which had notoriously failed to heed the counsel of political economy in relation to the Com Law, ostentatiously lined up with the Ricardians and exploited Ricardo's scientific reputation to their own political advantage.

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