“Dismal Science”…? Think Again!!!!

Many non-economists may revel in the reference to economics as “the dismal science“. However, they may be surprised Thomas Carlyle coined the term in “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question” (1849) wherein he denounced free-market economists (& evangelicals) for their opposition to slavery!

From the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by free men comes cheaper in the end than the work performed by slaves. Whatever work he does, beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance, can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own.
~ Adam Smith. Wealth of Nations (1776) ~

In the 1st installments of his riveting Ibis Trilogy (“River of Smoke” & “Sea of Poppies”), Amitav Ghosh has several characters attempt to apply the logic of “free trade” to force Chinese authorities to accept a banned item, opium, & to justify armed intervention by the British military.

While there is much literary merit in Ghosh’s books, his depiction of the support of some individuals’ for free trade must be seen as being based on opportunistic & self-interested motives. Readers would do well to place the concept into both a philosophical & historical context.

Otherwise, they might walk away with misinformed views on the merits of free & open commerce. Indeed, it would be just as inappropriate to condemn democracy since it allowed such dictatorial horrors as Hitler, Hugo Chavez or Salvador Allende to acquire constitutional powers through the ballot box.

It turns out that the Classical Liberal underpinnings of free trade were developed in the context of opposition to slavery, colonialism & war.


Indeed, many Classical Liberal & Libertarian philosophers have been among the most ardent anti-war campaigners.

For their part, Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer & Richard Cobden argued that market economies promote international understanding & peaceful tendencies. Schumpeter, Comte & Thorstein Veblen foresaw that market economies would encourage democratization & individualism to channel energies towards entrepreneurial & peaceful ends.

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About christopher

Content of "Natural Order" attempts to reflect the commitment of Universidad Francisco Marroquin to support the development of a society of free individuals. The principal commentator for this blog is Christopher Lingle.

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