Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Edmund Burke as an Economist

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Abstract

(This article is republished from Economica, 1954, with permission.) The romantic language in which Edmund Burke clothed much of his philosophy might lead one to imagine that he was not interested in the ordinary affairs of mankind, and as economics is concerned with very little else, that he was not interested in economics. But Burke had a sound grasp of the central principles of political economy. On his entry to Parliament in 1766 Burke quickly established a reputation as an expert on problems relating to trade and commerce, and he was the first great English statesman to preach Free Trade. Burke and Adam Smith being friends, it might seem reasonable to conclude that Burke borrowed his ideas on economics from Smith. No doubt Smith did influence him, but, nevertheless, Burke appears to have reached his main conclusions independently. Smith respected Burke’s opinions on this subject and even consulted him on points. Burke is therefore entitled to be considered as a pioneer of economic science. Moreover, by his speeches in Parliament, he introduced the new principles of economics to the politicians of the day. The amazingly rapid success of The Wealth of Nations may have been, in part, due to the fact that Burke had prepared men’s minds for it.