John Stuart Mill and the market economy

I have posted my own final note on the Liberty Fund website where I have had the great honour of writing the lead article and in which I have been joined by three great scholars: Richard Ebeling, Nicholas Capaldi and Sandra Peart. The entire discussion may be found here. One seldom has the opportunity of having one’s own work put before such an informed group and I cannot tell you how privileged I feel in having had such an intense discussion about issues that for the most part hardly anyone has any genuine understanding of. It has also given me an opportunity to focus wider attention on Mill, who is still to my mind the greatest economist who has ever lived.

And what may be the most astonishing thing I may have learned during this last month is that one of the greatest Mill scholars is now president of the Mont Pelerin Society. I read Pedro Schwartz’s New Economics of John Stuart Mill (1973) quite a while back and then Nicholas Capaldi’s intellectual biography of Mill (2005) when it came out. I felt I was dealing with kindred spirits with each yet never thought there was much else to it other than a similar regard. A a result of this symposium I appreciate that Nicholas and I have a similar understanding of the economics of Mill in much the same way for many of the same reasons. But I have also just found out, only yesterday in fact, that Pedro Schwartz is the recently elected President of the Mont Pelerin Society. I cannot tell you how astonished I am.

My assumption had always been that those with free market beliefs would shun Mill because of his promotion of economic experiment and his willingness to see “socialism” of some kind or other in a positive light. I would say to others that Mill has provided the best defence of the free market and the deepest understanding amongst anyone I have ever read. No one is exactly right about everything, or even if they were, since no two people see everything the same way, there will be differences that must come up. I only now feel an ability to insist even more than before, because of the example they have set, that if you would like to understand the nature of the market system, it is to John Stuart Mill you must go. Go through the posts on the Liberty Fund first to get you familiar with what you will find. But it is with Mill that you will find the best appreciation of the way an economy works and how it can be made to grow, than from any other of the great economists of the past. And for my own pale understanding of what he wrote, the second edition of my Free Market Economics is the closest attempt there is to bring the economics of Mill into the twenty-first century.

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