Knut Wicksell on Poverty: No Place Is Too Exalted

By Mats Lundahl | Go to book overview

2

Tumultuous beginnings

The cause of poverty and its remedy

Knut Wicksell had begun his academic studies in the fall of 1869 with the firm proposition to get a PhD and possibly in the end also a professorial chair in mathematics. His bachelor's degree two and a half years later had included mathematics and astronomy, but also philosophy, history, Latin and Scandinavian languages (Gårdlund, 1996:29). It was not until five or six years later that he began to display an interest in the social issues of the time. The circumstances were as follows.

As a young man, Wicksell had been religious, but during the course of the 1870s he gradually began to question his faith and instead began to look for a substitute that could serve as a guide in life. Under the influence of a student of medicine, Hjalmar Öhrvall, whose acquaintance he made in the fall of 1877, who had been a free-thinker since his teens, he began to look for an ideology 'that could be combined with the demands of truthfulness and utility' (Gårdlund, 1996:45). In this process, the two friends stumbled across The Elements of Social Science, a book published anonymously in English in 1854, which appeared in Swedish in 1878 (Drysdale, 1878). 1 This book was to be published in no fewer than thirty-five English editions and ten editions in foreign languages (Gårdlund, 1979:2). The Swedish edition had been translated from the sixteenth English one. Its author was the Scottish physician George Drysdale, whose identity, however, was not revealed until half a century after the publication of the work. The reading of this book would provide the most important input for all of Knut Wicksell's writings on poverty and population. Wicksell made Drysdale's ideas his own and never ceased to propagate them in his writings and public appearances. The book was nothing less than a revelation-a violent eye-opener-for him.


Wicksell's source of inspiration

Drysdale's book (Drysdale, 1876) is a curious mixture of medicine, religion and social issues. The first, short part deals with 'physical religion.'

-8-

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Knut Wicksell on Poverty: No Place Is Too Exalted
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Preface xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Tumultuous Beginnings 8
  • 3 - The Causes of Population Growth 23
  • 4 - The Centerpiece of Wicksell's Theory 30
  • 5 - Overpopulation, Specialization, and Trade 39
  • 6 - Emigration 50
  • 7 - The Optimum Population 59
  • 8 - Wicksell's Views 69
  • 9 - Why Was Wicksell Accused of Lack of Originality? 86
  • Notes 105
  • References 109
  • Index 117
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