Tag Archive for political economist

William Thompson, 1775 – 1833

William Thompson, 1775 – 1833

Ii is not the mere possession of wealth, but the right distribution of it, that is important to a community.

Force, fraud, chance, prescription, are almost everywhere the main arbiters of distribution, and have almost frightened reason from daring to contemplate the mischief they have caused.

William Thompson is largely an unknown or forgotten political economist from Ireland. Introduced to many through James Connolly’s ‘Labour in Irish History’, Connolly describing him as Irelands first socialist and as a forunner to Marx. Thompson championed the cause of women and the cooperative movement in Ireland publishing his political economy most notably in two books entitled An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness and Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery.

A wealthy man, Thompson tried to implement some of his ideas on his own estate but unfortunately died before he could attempt this ultimately leaving his estates to the burgeoning cooperative movement in his will.  Thompson continued the use of Smith’s labour theory of value but identified, in advance of Karl Marx, the exploitative nature of the creation and expropriation of surplus value by capitalists. He also appreciated and understood the political expression of class interest and rejected the concept that any increase in wages would automatically increases costs and so negative the increase. Thompson, like both Marx and Connolly after him, saw this as merely serving the interest of capitalists.

For more information on Thompson check out this article http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/s-thompson.html

David Ricardo (1772–1823)

David Ricardo was a trader by profession and a member of Parliament. He drew attention to the labour theory (before Marx) as the key to understanding prices and the creation of profit. In this he also recognised the different interests—sometimes conflicting interests—of classes, and placed classes in their position within the production process. Ricardo also clearly distinguished rent, and capital gained from rent, from capital produced through the production process. His most famous work is Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817).

Ricardo saw profit as arising from labour. The more labour involved, the greater the profit to be gained. However, as much of the good agricultural land was held in a monopoly by landowners, who merely live off the rent, and as the population grew, investment must turn to poorer land to be cultivated. As this land improves, it will cause an increase in the rent required for the use of good land (as less labour is required). This rent—something for nothing—then eats into the total profits of the capitalist, and so there is a conflict between landowners on the one hand and speculators and productive capitalists. With less profit from land there is less capital to reinvest and hence less growth in the system.

As population grows, therefore, land rent grows, and profits and growth decrease. Ricardo concluded that with a growing population and with this conflict between rent and capitalist growth, the system would tend towards a standstill.

Ricardo’s famous text can be found at http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/ricardo/tax/index.htm