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be made effective by the administration of certain doses of capital,
the constraint of Christian brotherhood, are to be enforced as a
part of the teachings of political economy. And thus, it is
declared, a new life is to be given to a science which has hitherto
regarded man as living by bread alone. Without wasting time
upon a needless defence of the older political economy, against
charges certainly not based upon any real examination of the uses
to which economic truth has been held to be applicable, it must be
remarked that a good deal of the current talk of an ethical politi-
cal economy appears to contemplate merely the infusion of emotion
into economics. But, after all, can there be any doubt that even
the most generous emotions must find their place, not in reasoning,
but in the use of the results of reasoning .'' Is there any doubt
that our sympathy with the aspirations of the working classes in
their centuries of effort, or our zeal for whatever shall bring the
masses of society into the full light and warmth of modern civiliza-
tion, is and must always be altogether foreign to the question as to


the causes which determine wages ? Both in the pulpit and in the
press, it sometimes seems to be assumed that really humane econo-
mists may be expected to avoid any conclusions which unpleasantly
recognize the persistence of moral as well as physical evil. But,
surely, there is no need of arguing that humanity and generosity,
or their opposites, are not to be predicated of a string of syllogisms.
And it is hardly more necessary to point out that even the enlight-
ened conscience must find its place for action after reason has
determined the conditions under which it is obliged to act. Li
short, the question what ought to be, or what we wish, must be
kept clear from the question what is, if we wish for any trust-
worthy answer to either. Bastiat is a good example of what befalls
an economist who permits his aspirations for great ethical and
social aims to mix with his reasoning ; and, in his case, we have,
as the result, a set of harmonies which, it seems to be agreed on
all sides, are admirable in every respect except consonance with

So far, then, as relates to the determination of economic truth,
we may be certain that the greater weight promised to ethical con-
siderations by the new school will have no effect. It will continue
to be necessary in this as in every other department of investiga-
tion, that the investigator should proceed with a single eye to the
truth, and that reason alone should guide his inquiry as to scientific
law, — in short, that the logical process should be logical, leaving
to the emotions, conscience, and the higher law their own field of
activity at another stage. It was a shock to Mr. Carey's sensi-
biUties to find Senior declaring it the economist's duty to allow
" neither sympathy with indigence nor disgust at profusion and
avarice, neither reverence for existing institutions nor detestation
of existing abuses, neither love of popularity nor of paradox nor of
system, to deter him from stating what he believes to be the facts,
nor from drawing from those facts what he believes to be the
legitimate conclusion." ^ But, doubtless, even Mr. Carey would
have found it difficult to present any other hopeful or even possi-
ble basis for scientific discussion. As Httle can the historical
school, if it is to do any permanent work, allow either generous
aspirations or social duties to interpose their influences, except in
their due place.

1 Carey's "Social Science," i., 196.


That such an influence has its due place before economic results
are applied in practice, is not a matter of serious dispute ; ^ and the
whole question of the relation of ethics to political economy
resolves itself, therefore, as was pointed out in the earlier part of
this article, into a bare question of classification. Shall our nomen-
clature be such as to make the term " poHtical economy " include
the ethical sphere or not ? To the present writer, the strict limi-
tation of the term appears to be the preferable, as it has been the
common, usage. But whether this usage is retained or not can
make no difference as to the course really to be followed. How-
ever our classification may divide or group the topics relating to
this order of thought, the process adopted for the elucidation of
scientific law must of logical necessity be kept free from ethical
considerations; and these considerations must, by equally strin-
gent necessity, be taken into account finally among the grounds of
action. " But, if the science is only to consider what is and not
what ought to be," complains Laveleye, " it can neither propose
nor pursue any ideal." To which it must be rejoined, that the
business of a science is not to propose or pursue ideals, but to
ascertain truths, — a work which ought not to be perturbed by
aspirations any more than by any other form of prepossession.
And, as truths once ascertained are to be used in due place and
season, it is easy to see that the great aim, the advancement of
society, is not set at risk by the strict regard paid to the definition
of a science, as M. Laveleye seems to apprehend.

The new movement, then, on the whole, although represented
by impassioned advocates as a revolution which is to sweep the
ground clear and give the world a new political economy, is, in fact,
a development of the existing science, under the influence of a
strong reaction against tendencies which had prematurely checked
its advance. So far as this development is historical in character, it
means a fresh impulse given to the study of the social fabric, past
and present, in its origin and its results, but not at present the
adoption of any new method of investigation, even if, in dealing

^ The extreme advocates of laissez /aire are sometimes spoken of with a misplaced
note of reprobation, as if they denied the existence of all moral considerations in con-
nection with any question touching wealth ; but clearly there is no necessary inconsist-
ency between a full recognition of the moral aspect of a subject and disbelief in the
right or power of government to act upon it.


with this subject-matter, any real change of method is practicable,
— a point which may at least be held in reserve until further
proof. And, so far as the new development is social or ethical, it
means an increase of weight given to obligations which have been
ignored oftener than denied, and the consideration of which can
neither supersede nor control any reasoning, deserving the name
of scientific, upon economic questions. The importance of the
movement, even in this view of its scope, as tending to direct the
attention of the economic world, for the present generation at least,
to new problems, and perhaps to revive its interest in topics too
easily neglected, can hardly be overrated. But this new direction
of thought is, after all, not the absolute break of continuity so
often proclaimed.

It is to be said, too, that such a movement as the present need
not be regarded with a jealous eye, by those of us who still believe
that the method of Ricardo and Mill and Cairnes is the best and
even the only sure method, for threading the way through the
mazes of conflicting motives which underlie economic phenomena.
Even the excessive cultivation of fields heretofore neglected must
be viewed by the adherents of the deductive school as not only
natural, but hopeful. They will not deny that the current political
economy needs to be brought into closer relation to the life of to-
day ; and, whatever else the reaction may succeed or fail in doing,
it will certainly compel all economists to carry their researches
deeper into actual phenomena. Moreover, so long as the investiga-
tion of truth, by whatever means, is the guiding purpose of the
movement, its result must be the accumulation of material, rich and
varied, to be brought ultimately into the service of science. And,
even if dogmatism and the growing arrogance of a school secure
the sway and wreck the possible career of the new economics, the
old will at least have undergone a salutary discipline and received
a new impulse.


The last quarter of a century has seen a remarkable aevelop-
ment of political economy as an academic study. For special
reasons connected with the organization of the universities and of
institutions for liberal education generally, this development is not
so marked in France or England as it is in Germany, in the United
States, or, perhaps, in Italy; but it has everywhere been sufficient
to bring forward economic science, from its old position as the
curious pursuit of a limited class of specialists, to a recognized
place as a department of thought, the further exploration of which
must be carefully provided for by any well-equipped academic
body. In our own country in particular, no one of the moral
sciences has made a more rapid or solid gain than political
economy, either in the extent and importance of its scientific inves-
tigations, or in the dignity of method and spirit which characterizes
its work, or in its educational value.

The reasons for this important advance, it is to be noted, are in
some degree independent of those which determine the value of
economic science for the professional educator and make it for him
an important branch of liberal training. For him it is a study
which is to discipline and open the mind, and prepare it to meet
the problems offered by professional work or by active business.
The educational value of economic study has, in fact, but little to
do with the actual content of the science. Even if it were, as has
been said, a mere discussion of " lunar politics " or of social rela-
tions under the rings of Saturn, although it would lose in interest,
it would still afford one of the best means of training ♦•he. reason-
ing powers to deal with the questions of complex causes presented
to us in such infinite variety by human life.^ In short, the value

1 Qiiarttrly Journal of Economics, ]\yS.\, 1 89 1.

* See some excellent remarks on this subject by Professor Patten, of the University
of Pennsylvania, in his paper on "The Educational Value of Political Economy," in the
publications of the American Economic Association, vol. v., No. 6, p. ii.



of political economy as a dialectic would remain, although it found
no immediate application in the society around us. Probably every
earnest teacher of the subject feels an interest in his work, then,
and has in view the attainment of objects, entirely different in kind
from the interest and the purposes which, to the non-professional
observer, would seem to be most natural.

But the interest with which the general pubhc view the aca-
demic study of economics and the widespread demand for its
extension, as well as the pressure of students for introduction to its
elements and its methods, no doubt spring from entirely different
considerations. It is the perception of the scope and importance
of the questions with which political economy deals that turns the
popular current so strongly toward it to-day. It is keenly felt
that on the right answer of these questions must depend not only
the future progress of society, but also the preservation of much
that has been gained by mankind in the past ; and it is inevitable
that the community should desire to see such problems investigated
under the conditions and by the methods which are found to be
fruitful in other departments of study, and to have the younger
generation trained for economic reasoning and investigation as
thoroughly and assiduously as they are for the languages or phi-
losophy or natural science. We say advisedly that " the com-
munity " desire to see this ; for nothing is more striking than the
interest which those who are called practical men often show in the
prosecution and encouragement of this class of studies, in which
nevertheless they take but little part directly. That the scientific
man and the practical man are apt to lack each other's strongest
qualities — and so are complementary to each other, but are rarely
complete - is a notorious cause of misapprehension and waste of
energy ; ^ but in this case we have both working together, in their
common eagerness to promote the investigation of economic ques-
tions, as they might for the promotion of the natural and physical
sciences, which so readily fix the attention of the non-professional

1 The remark of Mill may be recalled, that, " while the philosopher and the prac-
tical man bandy half-truths with one another, we may seek far without finding one who,
placed on a higher eminence of thought, comprehends as a whole what they see only in
separate parts, — who can make the anticipations of the philosopher guide the observa-
tion of the practical man, and the specific experience of the practical man warn the
philosopher when something is to be added to his theory." "Essays on Some Unsettled
Questions," p. 157.



observer. We can go farther, and say that public opinion in
general, in the countries which stand highest in the intellectual
scale, is catholic in its judgments of the results of economic inves-
tigation, tolerant of differing opinions, and fully awake to the
essential importance of complete freedom of thought and of expres-
sion. Especially is this the case in Germany, which for some
years past has succeeded in maintaining the first place in this
branch of learning as in so many others. Complete intellectual
independence has there been conspicuous among the favoring con-
ditions of intellectual progress.

The universities have everywhere found themselves encouraged
and even required, therefore, to take up the investigation of
economics with vigor and to push it by scientific methods. The
leading European universities, it is well known, have long been
raising the standard of their equipment and encouraging research
in this as in every other department of learning. But, limiting our
observation now to American institutions alone, the last fifteen
years have witnessed a complete transformation of their work in
political economy. In the largest and most thoroughly organized
of them, where time has generally been gained for an extended
training, the independent examination of economic theories, the
comparison and weighing of writers, the determination of the
points at which important schools diverge, and the application in
all cases of the logical test, which leaves no place for the mere
authority of a name, have been carried to a point which even fifteen
years ago would have been thought impossible.^ The study of
economic history in its most important fields has been prosecuted
with success, contributions of recognized value have been made to
the literature of economics, and students everywhere have learned
to watch with interest the results of American investigation and
scholarship. The work that has been done, it is safe to say, has
been done with increasing thoroughness and fidelity. The tone
of American economics, often supposed to echo only the EngHsh
school to which the scholars of every country are proud to
acknowledge their indebtedness, has been modified in a singular

1 Without attemptinfT an exact measurement of the increase of work which has
taken place, it is probal^ly safe to say that in the six or eight leading American institu-
tions the number of hours of instruction given per week to economics has increased on
the average six or seven fold since 1876.


way in favor of the free and continuous development of theory ;
and the study and interpretation of economic history, discarding
the post hoc propter hoc of the partisan, has become the labo-
rious and impartial search for the facts which test theories and ex-
emplify principles. No "American school" has been developed
in this rapid progress ; but economic study in the United States, in
the institutions of learning as well as outside of them, has had a
serious part in the general movement of economic thought in the
world at large.

This work has been carried on, as has already been said, by
scientific methods and in accordance with a public demand that it
should be so carried on. The question often raised whether politi-
cal economy is in fact a science is not material here. Political
economy at any rate aims to discover the forces which determine
certain phenomena of society, their direction, strength, and mutual
relations. It is, then, in any case a study of cause and effect, and
as such must be studied in the scientific manner, whatever place
may be assigned to it in the scientific hierarchy. The circle of
emotions, hopes, and moral judgments springing from any eco-
nomic fact may be boundless ; but the relation of that fact to its
cause and its consequences is as certainly a question to be settled
by appropriate scientific methods as the perturbation of a satellite
or a reaction observed by the chemist. And undoubtedly the
essential of the scientific manner of study is, that truth alone
should be the object of pursuit, and that the methods of investi-
gation should be such as from the nature of the subject-matter
will lead to the truth most directly and surely. That the results
obtained by such methods should be agreeable or the reverse,
that they should accord with prevailing ideas or interests or be in
opposition thereto, is altogether aside from the purpose in hand.
Are the results true .-* is the only test question to be recognized in
such an inquiry. That the process of investigation or reasoning
is not to be warped in order to make a given conclusion attainable,
that any conclusion thus attained by illegitimate means is not only
worthless, but noxious, follows as a matter of course when the
truth for its own sake is made the aim.

The universities, in general, are aided in their efforts to incul-
cate the scientific spirit in economic students by a very important
body of tradition and example within their own walls. The young


student of political economy, who is urged to carry on his investi-
gation as one of scientific interest, and not merely of transient
political concern, cannot help feeling the influence and catching
something of the spirit of the investigators at work in other fields
around him. The patience, thoroughness, and singleness of pur-
pose which mark successful efforts in the great body of scientific
pursuits set the standard for him. His own teachers may fall
short of their own ideal of scientific method, they may even be un-
true to it, and yet the observing student will feel the sweep of the
great current which carries all genuine lovers of science toward
the same end. This influence of the general intellectual move-
ment has, moreover, been strengthened in no small degree by the
change which has taken place in the methods of study pursued in
political economy itself. The cultivation of the so-called historical
method can never make political economy anything other than a
deductive science, deriving its laws by logical conclusion from
premises which are freed by abstraction from all non-essentials.
But it would be idle to deny that the verification of conclusions by
observation and the selection of new premises for further reasoning
— in a word, that the thoroughness of the deductive process and
the general scope of the study — have been advanced in a high
degree by the improved methods of research and comparison,
which have been made applicable in political economy as well as
in other moral sciences. It would be difficult to find a writer upon
economics, however severe his theoretical method, whose mental
attitude does not show a remarkable change from the "stalled"
condition in which his predecessors of thirty years ago found
themselves. And the student finds in this extended range of inter-
est at once a stimulus to the acquisition of the best equipment
and training for independent research, and a safeguard against
the mere absorption of an expounded system. So far as the true
scientific spirit has made its way, the student in economics, as else-
where, more and more follows Bacon's injunction, to "read, not to
contradict and refute, nor to believe and take for granted, . . . but
to weigh and consider."

So much being premised as to the spirit and method at present
governing the academic study of economics, in the leading institu-
tions in all countries having any important place in the intellectual


world to-day, we have next to remark upon the singular derogation
from scientific methods implied in the demands frequently made
in the last few years in the United States for some different and
special treatment of the burning question of protection or free
trade. That this question should be singled out for such demands
is no doubt due to the fact that, especially since 1880, it has become
political to a greater extent than for many years previously. As
a political question, it is often treated by partisans in the heat of
discussion as if its solution were the chief, and sometimes as if it
were the only, aim of political economy. It would not be difficult
to cite public speakers, very high in station, who have been alto-
gether unable to recognize any other subject of interest in the
economic field : whereas, it must be remarked for completeness of
statement, international trade has to compete for attention, in any
general survey of that field, with such broad and absorbing ques-
tions as those relating to money, land, labor, and socialistic reform,
all of which antedate the free-trade controversy and are likely to
disappear only with human society itself. These questions are all
intrinsically as important as the question between a high tariff and
a low one, and every one of them probably concerns our material
interests in even greater degree, and with our material interests
others still more vital. But on no one of these subjects has dogma
yet fairly crystallized into political platforms, and they are, there-
fore, still recognized, by most of the world, as the proper subject-
matter for unbiassed scientific inquiry ; and the answer to be given
by science is still looked for with interest, if not with hope.

The call for exceptional treatment of the question between pro-
tection and free trade is, in effect, a demand that upon a contro-
verted point, as to which scientific opinions are not at one, political
economy shall be made to give its answer in a particular, predeter-
mined sense. This is the real purport of the complaints made by
scores of public speakers in the canvass of 1888, and frequently
repeated by the press, as to the supposed tendencies of the instruc-
tion in political economy in a large part of the American colleges
and universities. The complaints, in most cases at least, did not
relate to methods of training or investigation ; for they were mani-
festly made without knowledge of the methods pursued. The gist
of the complaints was that certain specified results of reasoning
had been reached, — results not set down as eccentric and possibly


indicative of individual lack or balance, but commented on as
showing necessarily and of themselves a certain bias in the aca-
demic mind generally. In short, the attempt was made to judge
of a body of scientific inquirers by reference, not to their pro-
cesses, but to their opinions upon questions still sub jiidice. This
was not far different from requiring of them the profession of a

In some cases, the requirement of a creed has gone still farther,
if very widespread report may be trusted. In more than one state
university, and in some minor institutions within the last few years,
it has been understood the purpose has been avowed of filling
existing vacancies only by the appointment of men holding a par-
ticular set of opinions upon the vexed question. It has long been
an open secret that, at an earlier date, one important school of
public economy was founded with the express provision that it
should avoid the judicial attitude of a scientific body and establish
an active propaganda of the views of its founders.^ It would be
hard to find a parallel for such intolerance of scientific investiga-
tion and substantial indifference to truth as these cases disclose,
in any institutions of equal standing, when dealing with any other

Online LibraryCharles Franklin DunbarEconomic essays → online text (page 7 of 40)