Pre-Classical Economists


Economics, in its true spirit, studies exploratory, evolutionary (as well as generative/regenerative), locational, allocational, exploitative (use-related) and excretive activities of a society vis--vis resources (hard as well as soft), and the rules (static, dynamic and evolutionary) governing those activities. Regarding such activities, individuals or a collectivity of individuals may be decision-makers. Decision-making may be information-based, rule-based, authority-based and so on. This system may be self-organizing (that generates, disseminates and uses information), monitored or authoritative. In practice, no system is observed in a pure state and, therefore, different proportions of decision-making, information-using and managerial practices give rise to different types of economies. A particular economy may be based on individual ownership of resources, where exchange activities, motivated by self-interest, generate information and this information is used for locational, allocational, exploitative, excretive, exploratory and evolutionary decisions. Another particular economy may characterize social ownership of resources where authoritative activities, motivated by the purpose to achieve social equity, justice, survival etc. are used for various decisions.

Economics as a systematic branch of knowledge or tool of formulation of public policies is often thought to have emerged in the Eighteenth Century Europe, especially in England and France. However, before the triumph of science and the Industrial Revolution, the life of people in Europe may be explained on the principles of "Closed system-Caste-Power-Religion-Custom" nexus. The economic life of the commoners/laity was controlled by the nobility (or aristocracy) or the clergy (religious heads); tradition-bound it went on in a perpetual cycle without much development for a very long time. This circularity gave rise to 'caste' - tying of the type of livelihood to birth in a social group, now strange to the modern western civilization (see Knox on The Middle Ages: Medieval Society). The rise of science and the Industrial Revolution overthrew the old order. Power went into the hands of the industrialists and merchants with whom the crown made a coalition. Formation of 'economic class' on the dichotomy of labourers versus capitalists began. These developments gave rise to "economics" as a new scientific enquiry.

A loose system of considerably structured economic thoughts are traceable when enormous wealth was brought to Italy in 14th, 15th and 16th centuries by expanding trade into Asia and Europe and silver mining in Tyrol increased the flow of money. After Renaissance and later the Industrial Revolution when England, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, etc. were awakened and the triumph of science was clearly discernible, those countries started interacting vigorously with each other and with the countries outside Europe mainly in the pursuit of trade opportunities. This environment was the hotbed of growing a system of structured economic thoughts, especially centering around the market economy. In this milieu, England showed vigorous development of the mercantilist thoughts while France showed her leaning to Physiocracy (the importance of agriculture) and for obvious reasons. These thoughts had a great relevance to influencing the public opinion and making the economic policies that favoured their national (or at least the dominant class) interests. The rise of the nation states in Europe went on hand in hand with these developments. Later, England and France both became the protagonists of trade, but in accordance with their own national economic backgrounds. The thesis of Gunnar Myrdal (in his The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory, 1930) is only more vivid here.

Yet, the ancient economic thoughts form an interesting part in the history of economic reasoning. The economic thoughts of Kautilya in his Arthashastra or the observations of Xenophon as one learns from Oeconomicus and Ways and Means are astonishingly structured. For example, Kautilya began his treatise with "Sukhasya mulam dharmah; Dharmasya mulam arthah; Arthasya mulam rajyam; Rajya mulam indriyajayah' meaning that the social wellbeing is rooted in observance of duties; the latter is rooted in resourcefulness, that lay in good governance, which in turn is rooted in regulation and control of the wanton desires that our sense organs and bodily inclination often give rise to. Thus he wrote about the political economy and not economics that centers around the market economy (although it does not imply that the contemprary (market-based) economics is less political either in its origin or in its destination).

The Pre-Classical Economists
Kautilya (Chanakya, Vishnugupta) Xenophon (also in Oeconomicus)
Thomas Mun Josiah Child
Giovanni Botero Antonio Serra
Gerard de Malynes Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Domingo de Soto Philipp von Hörnigk
François Quesnay Jean Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay
Victor de Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau André Morellet
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot Pierre Le Pesant, sieur de Boisguilbert
John Locke William Petty


 

 

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