Monday 26 February 2024

"The dismal science ... "

"In my interview with economist David Henderson, I asked him how economics came to be called the 'dismal science.' The source, he explained, was Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth-century historian and essayist. The surprising reason for his coining the phrase? Carlyle was attacking free-market liberals for advocating the end of slavery.
    "Free-market liberals argued that all men were equally deserving of freedom, so the slaves should be emancipated. Carlyle counter-argued — with strong agreement from Charles Dickens and John Ruskin, two other strong critics of free-market capitalism — that blacks were unequal to whites and so undeserving and incapable of freedom. Giving slaves freedom, they believed, would lead to dismal social consequences.

    "Here is a fine essay by David Levy and Sandra Peart with the sorry details: “The Secret History of the Dismal Science. Part I. Economics, Religion and Race in the 19th Century.”
    "The image, as Levy and Peart explain, shows Ruskin as a white knight slaying a black man dressed in gentlemen’s finery and holding a book entitled 'Wealth of Nations,' Adam Smith’s treatise being a major work in the free-market capitalist tradition."

PS: Notable, I think, that Carlyle has also been called one of the founding fathers of fascism, and was also a major influence on New Zealand's Governor Grey, who would frequently “quote Carlyle’s theory of despotism as the best of all systems of colonial government.”[1]

[1] Kennedy, A. New Zealand (1873), 143, 147; cited in Rutherford, Sir George Grey (1961), p.283 

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