The Humanization Of Political Economy -- By: W. E. C. Wright
BSac 62:245 (Jan 1905) p. 171
The Humanization Of Political Economy
“Men, not things,” is peculiarly the watchword of the hour. The spirit of the time does not accept art for art’s sake, nor science for the sake of science, nor government for the sake of the nation in the abstract. All things for humanity’s sake. In no sphere is this tendency more marked than in economics.
BSac 62:245 (Jan 1905) p. 172
What a change, for example, from the crude mediaeval conception of value as something inherent in the material thing! That notion led economic thought in a wrong direction. It brought the monks to the logical conclusion that the merchant must cheat at one end or the other of every transaction, for he asks more for every article than he has paid for it. They did not perceive that the value of an object is enhanced by being in the right place at the right time to meet some human need. The mistake was in considering material things solely in themselves, when the actual concern is their relation to the desires and welfare of human beings. Only in such relation can value exist at all.
How far we have come to our present recognition of human desires as the motive force in economic activity! The latest text-book at hand2 devotes an early chapter to “Psychic Income,” in which he rightly traces value back to its source in gratification.
The Manchester school recognized certain human desires; but how meager a creature was their “economic man”! He was characterized by two desires: to buy in the cheapest market, and to sell in the dearest market. If he had other desires, they were so nearly rudimentary as to be powerless before the dominant two. The chief end of this imaginary creature was the production of goods. The wealth of nations came to be thought of apart from the welfare of the human individuals that make up the nation, and whose ambitions and sentiments, hopes and fears, joys and trials, are incomparably more important that the material goods they produce. The Manchester school developed a needed, but after all a partial and incomplete, truth, in its laissez-faire doctrine. Taken alone, it could almost be called inhuman. It ruled sympathy out of human relations in the business world, and gave occasion for calling Political Economy “the dismal science.” It bade us look on our fellow human beings, in the struggles of industrial life, as impassively as on the pawns of a game of chess. The “let-alone” theory became more sacred in the eyes of econo-
BSac 62:245 (Jan 1905) p. 173
mists than even the welfare of little children, and these theorists generally opposed legislation to limit the hours of ...
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