Opposition to Political Economy
Some gentlemen got up, said Hume, and exultantly said 'Thank God! we are no political economists!' For his part, he found that Political Economy was 'the science of those laws which regulated the production, distribution and consumption of those articles of exchangeable value that are agreeable, necessary or useful to man.' What an enviable state it was to know nothing of those laws which were of so much importance to the welfare of the country!
Joseph Hume in the House of Commons ( 1829) 1
At the same time that political economy was accumulating a band of serious scientific practitioners and acquiring allies in the political arena and among journalists, it was also exciting a reaction. The reaction was not simply to particular points of its doctrines, although there were many whose differences with the economists were minor, but frequently to the scientific tradition as a whole. These "macro" protests against the ideas connected with the banner of political economy are indications of the influence that it was having in shaping public opinion and policy. The nature of such protests forms the subject matter of this chapter.
A leading theme of political economy's opponents was that the economists connected with the tradition were morally deficient, callously indifferent to the suffering of both the poor and all of those who might be affected by the implementation of the policies that they advocated. In the extreme, some, like Cobbett, viewed the economists' ideas and proposals as the product of evil intent, akin to Marx's characterization of the political economy of the 1830s and 1840s as "vulgar economy." Others were more generous to the characters of the econ-