Some very old truths in economics

I’ve just read through a facsimile edition of William Petty’s Political Arithmetick. Previously I’d dipped into bits and somehow never read through. What’s interesting is how clearly Petty foreshadows some key ideas about economic growth. One is agglomeration economies, which I always assume Marshall was the first to articulate. But no, before 1690 Petty was insisting on the benefits of dense populations, for reasons of economies of scale and specialisation. He writes about the importance of clear title to property, duly enforced by the courts. He is an ardent advocate too for the importance of trade (and hence the need to invest in shipping and naval skills). All this in the context of comparing Britain favourably with France and unfavourably with Holland. Fascinating.

A highlight of my visit to Chetham’s library in Manchester was being able to hold the copy of Political Arithmetick Marx and Engels had read during their period studying there in 1846.

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One thought on “Some very old truths in economics

  1. Apparently, Petty was one of Cromwell’s men and in particular surveyor of lands in Ireland that were confiscated to reward Cromwell’s troops for their efforts. If my memory is correct in the long term that did not turn out well. One thing was that Nesbitt families were enriched and a branch later were to be found in the City of London as leading bankers and speculators. In the 1770’s they managed to crash the economy, wreck the City and Treasury borrowing and lose the American Colonies.

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