The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

Excerpt

The immense mass of economic literature presents no phenomenon at all comparable to the treatise here reprinted. One might even venture to doubt whether any of the numerous sociological sciences could discover a parallel. This was a work in many respects far from original, an outcome of much friendly discussion and private mental concentration, which its author published only with the greatest reluctance and misgiving. The reader of that day probably found it hard, remote, unimaginative; its style repellent, its treatment unsystematic, its method abstract and passionless. Yet even in this clothing its strange mixture of audacity and diffidence, of independence and selflessness, has achieved, whether by attraction or repulsion, a not easily estimable influence on human thought and feeling and action.

David Ricardo, the third son of a Dutch Jew who had settled in England and acquired a respectable fortune on the Stock Exchange, was born in 1772, on the eve of the industrial revolution, and four years before Adam Smith published the Wealth of Nations. His father, who seems to have been a man conventional in opinion, honourable in business, influential among his friends, introduced him to even the confidential work of finance at the early age of fourteen. In the world outside, England, whose national debt had just been doubled in a war of eight years' duration, was enjoying a brief respite from her long duel with France. Pitt's thaumaturgic sinking fund had come into baleful operation. Home-grown corn, in spite of much encouragement, had by now become inadequate for home needs. Steam had just been harnessed to the service of man. The country-side was rapidly emptying its population to feed the towns, and the north of England was already usurping the industrial supremacy of the south. In Berkshire and elsewhere the fond or lazy benevolence of the justices was creating a problem which Combination Laws and Bastardy Acts, war and protection, were to develop to frightful proportions, until the sore should need the knife. England was . . .

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