Knut Wicksell on Poverty: No Place Is Too Exalted

By Mats Lundahl | Go to book overview

9

Why was Wicksell accused of lack of originality?

Given the originality of mind that was one of Wicksell's hallmarks, and given our findings in Chapter 8, there is an inevitable question that must be raised: Why has Wicksell been accused of not producing anything very original when it comes to poverty, population, and emigration? (The only exception made is his writings on the concept of optimal population, but this, as we know, he never really developed.) The only possible answers to our question are conjectural but, even so, it may be worthwhile to speculate on the issue.


Too early

One reason may be that Wicksell discovered the population problem very early in his career. At the time when he delivered his scandalous lecture at Hoppets Här he had not yet been exposed to any formal study of economics. On the contrary, he entered the debate as an amateur who had had a revelation. He had seen the neo-Malthusian light in Drysdale's book and he would spend the rest of life arguing that the population question was the most important of all the social questions. His basic views on poverty, population and emigration were formed already in 1880-1, i.e. extremely early in his academic career-at a time when the only thing that he had published within his main field at the time was six mathematical notes in a pedagogical journal directed to students (Knudtzon, 1976:82).

The basic causal order in Wicksell's early system was simple. Excessive population growth led to poverty, and poverty produced drunkenness and prostitution on the one hand and emigration to an uncertain existence on the other. Emigration was not an unmitigated blessing. Far from that. It entailed a loss of human capital for the country that the emigrants left, to be set against the cost of the formation of this capital. The remedy was simple as well. The sexual instincts had to be taken for granted but, if contraceptive devices could be made available and the population could be enlightened

-86-

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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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