In every age economists have applied the methods ordinarily in use amongst scientific men.
Some doctrines of the earlier economists, such as the Wages Fund Theory, are now practically abandoned, though it may be said that they contained a certain amount of truth.
The European ferment of ideas which preceded the French Revolution expressed itself in men like Alfieri, the fierce denouncer of tyrants, Beccaria, the philosopher of criminal jurisprudence, Volta, the physicist, and numerous political economists of Tuscany.
He soon, however, became entirely engrossed with colonial affairs, and, having impressed John Stuart Mill, Colonel Torrens and other leading economists with the value of his ideas, became a leading though not a conspicuous manager of the South Australian Company, by which the colony of South Australia was ultimately founded.
This system, which for many years subsequently was regarded as authoritative, has been subjected to vigorous criticism by later economists, and it is perhaps not too much to say that it now possesses mainly an historical interest.
In this article we propose therefore to confine ourselves to discussing the character and subject-matter of the science, indicating its relation to other sciences, and explaining the methods by which economists reach their conclusions.
It is also possible to find in them many anticipations of the views of the economists of later times; but such statements were as a rule generated merely by the heat of controversy on some measure or event of practical importance, and when the controversy died down were seldom regarded or incorporated in a scientific system.
Whether such large numbers have the character of the " economic man " of the early economists matters very little.
Any one who has taken the trouble to trace the history of one of the modern schools of economists, or of any branch of economic science, knows how difficult it is to say when it began.
It must be clear to every observer that the economists of the classical period, with the one exception of Adam Smith, will speedily share the fate of nearly all scientific writers.
Moreover, modern economists, while accepting in the main the general tenor of Malthus's theory of population, would not agree with his statement of it.
It would be of immense advantage from a scientific point of view if this could be taken for granted, if for a time the work of the classical economists could be considered final so far as it goes, and for the purposes of investigation regarded as the theoretical counterpart of the modern industrial system.
This assumption, however, has been made quite impossible, not by the historical school, but by the criticism and analysis of economists in the direct line of the Ricardian succession.
If the Ricardian school of economists had been merely philosophers, or even a group like the French physiocrats, this state of things might be regarded with equanimity.
If they could, by some happy chance, have been left for discovery by modern economists, they would without doubt have received different treatment, to the great advantage of economic science.
The opinions of present-day economists appear to fluctuate between these two extremes.
If we go to Mill to discover what it is, we find that " it is not pretended that the law of diminishing return was operative from the beginning of society; and though some political economists may have believed it to come into operation earlier than it does, it begins quite early enough to support the conclusions they founded on it."
When the aim of the man of affairs and the hypothesis of the economist was unrestricted competition, and measures were being adopted to realize it, general theory such as the classical economists provided was perhaps a sufficiently trustworthy guide for practical statesmen and men of business.
It is true that at present very little work of this kind has been done in England, but innumerable books, many of them about England, have been written by thoroughly competent economists, in French, German and other languages.
It was hailed with satisfaction by the Unionists, but the pure economists complained that he had thrown sobriety and thrift to the winds.
This position he founded on the law of wages formulated by Ricardo, and accepted by all the leading economists, that wages are controlled by the ordinary relations of supply and demand, that a rise in wages leads to an increase in the labouring population, which, by increasing the supply of labour, is followed by a corresponding fall of wages.
The work of Cobden, and what is now called "Cobdenism," has in recent years been subjected to much criticism from the newer school of English economists who advocate a "national policy" (on the old lines of Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich List) as against his cosmopolitan ideals.
He was also a supporter of the principles of the economists, and Quesnay called him his wellbeloved disciple.
Many of its members became famous as engineers, economists, and men of business.
This is a good thing because it means that high degrees of utility (the economists' word for "happiness") can be achieved with a wide variety of goods.
For the rest of the economists of this period, it is difficult to see how they can escape oblivion.
The first, treating of agriculture and domestic economy, was the Journal economique (1751-1772); a Journal de commerce was founded in 1759; periodical biography may be first seen in the Necrologe des hommes celebres de France (1764-1782); the political economists established the Ephemerides du citoyen in 1765; the first Journal d'education was founded in 1768, and the Courrier de la mode in the same year; the theatre had its first organ in the Journal des theatres (1770); in the same year were produced a Journal de musique and the Encyclopedia militaire; the sister service was supplied with a Journal de marine in 1778.
Say is considered to have brought out the importance of capital as a factor in production more distinctly than the English economists, who unduly emphasized labour.
Deputies from the towns took part in the election of John Albert (1492), and the burgesses of Cracow, the most enlightened economists in the kingdom, supplied Sigismund I.
Nevertheless it is the deficient quantity of the wheat raised in the British Islands, and not the quality of the grain, which has been the cause of so much anxiety to economists and statesmen.
A more serious defect was his practice of violently assailing philosophers, economists and men of science, of whom he knew almost nothing, and whom he perversely misunderstood: men such as Adam Smith, Comte, Mill, Spencer, Darwin and all who followed them.
The idea of tariff reform - to broaden the basis of taxation, to introduce a preference, and to stimulate home industries and increase employment - took firm root; and the political economists of the party - Prof. W.
Phelps, - men of admitted competence, yet, after all, of no higher authority than the economists supporting Mr Chamberlain, such as Dr Cunningham and Professor Ashley.
He had been in France in 1773, where he had not only the famous vision of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, "glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour and joy," but had also supped and discussed with some of the destroyers, the encyclopaedists, "the sophisters, economists and calculators."
The land tax is quite unimportant, being an ancient tax upon an old assessment which has long become obsolete, and it interests economists most of all by the illustration it furnishes of what may be called a rentcharge tax - a tax, that is, which has been so long in existence and so fixed in its basis that it becomes in reality a charge upon the property, and not a direct burden upon the person who pays it, as the income tax is upon the person who pays it or for whom it is paid.
They have been regarded with' much dislike by most economists, and some dues of the kind which existed in London, viz., dues on coal and wine imported, and metage dues on grain, were much imposed until their final abolition in recent years.
Owners on one side and occupiers on the other claim that they each bear the burden of the same taxes, and economists favour the opinion that much of the burden is in the nature of a rentcharge on the property, and in any case is equally diffused over the whole community.
As to the justice of such a progressive tax, there is a common opinion in its favour among economists, at least to .the extent of exempting a certain minimum of subsistence from taxation; but the present writer, after accepting this view in early life on the authority of Mill, must now express the greatest doubt.
Politically one might differ from him, but economists as such must either be silent when political reasons are alleged for taxes that are against fundamental maxims, or must be content to point out the cost of the taxes in order that the communities concerned may decide whether the object in view is obtainable by means of the taxation, and is worth the price.
Meanwhile the economists had themselves taken up the problem, and it was from them that the historians of to-day have learned it.
A Serious Fall in the Value of Gold (1863) and The Coal Question (1865) placed him in the front rank as a writer on applied economics and statistics; and he would be remembered as one of the leading economists of the 19th century even had his Theory of Political Economy never been written.
By far the greater part of the interest now paid in the civilized world is, in the language of the English economists, only a fair reward for risk of loss and for management of capital, and a necessary stimulus to saving.