Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Edmund Burke: Mercantilist or proto-Classical? An exercise in the history of economic thought.

Chountis Ioannes, PhD Student, University of Aberdeen

Edmund Burke wrote a handful of texts on issues of trade and public finances in addition to his works on politics and aesthetics. One of the critical subjects that the Anglo-Irish thinker was particularly engaged with the question of the state's intervention in the economy. At the time, politicians, philosophers, and men of letters considered him an authority in political economy and his opinions were widely discussed. The importance of economics in his overall thought and work is, also, accepted by most of modern Burkean scholars. In this paper we will examine two of Burke's works in relation to trade, the Speech on Economic Reform (1780) and the Thoughts and Details in Scarcity (1795). Through the examination of these two opera minora we endeavor to answer the following questions: under what conditions did Burke approved state intervention? What was the role of charity in his thought? And, whether his view of trade was similar with what was the prevailing opinion of his time. Ultimately, these questions serve a twofold purpose: on the one hand, to determine whether Burke was closer to mercantilist thinking or was a sui generis proto-classical thinker. This dichotomy will help us discuss what framework will better fir for an understanding of his thought. On the other hand, this framework will allow us to examine this transitional period in economic theory and see Burke’s place in it.

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Keywords: Edmund Burke, Mercantilism, Classical Political Economy, Eighteenth-Century

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