Political Economy for Beginners (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Political Economy for Beginners is a timeless introduction to the Classical Political Economy of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill. The book was so well regarded that it broke the record for the number of editions published of an elementary textbook. In this important work, Fawcett explains the theory of production, exchange, and distribution of wealth. Although written in 1870, the key concepts in Classical Political Economy remain relevant to the development of ...
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Political Economy for Beginners (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

Political Economy for Beginners is a timeless introduction to the Classical Political Economy of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill. The book was so well regarded that it broke the record for the number of editions published of an elementary textbook. In this important work, Fawcett explains the theory of production, exchange, and distribution of wealth. Although written in 1870, the key concepts in Classical Political Economy remain relevant to the development of wealth in the global economy of the twenty-first century.

About the Author:
Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was an influential political economist and suffragist in England. As a secretary for her blind husband, first professor of Political Economics at Cambridge Henry Fawcett, she gained expert knowledge of Classical Political Economy. Deciding, therefore, to write a book to briefly explain the important principles of political economy to beginners, she quickly earned recognition, independently of Henry, as a political economist.

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Introduction

Political Economy for Beginners (1870) by Millicent Garrett Fawcett is a timeless introduction to the Classical Political Economy of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill. The book was so well regarded that ten editions were published over a period of twenty-five years - a record for an elementary textbook of that time. Defining political economy as the science that investigates the nature of wealth, Fawcett explains the theory of production, exchange, and distribution of wealth that prevailed in the eighteenth century and much of the nineteenth century. She uses logic as a mechanism for ascertaining the truth of the doctrines and illustrates the points using the economic conditions in England as well as macroeconomic dynamics affecting foreign trade. It is noteworthy that key concepts in Classical Political Economy remain relevant to the development of wealth in the global economy of the twenty-first century.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was an influential political economist and suffragist in England. Her formal education ended when she was fifteen years old, after three years at the Academy for Daughters of Gentlemen, but she continued to study independently and developed her own intellect. Through her older sisters, she met people in London who held radical political views, including John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett, who were radical members of parliament (MP) and proponents of women's rights. Millicent married Henry Fawcett in 1867. Henry was the first professor of Political Economics at Cambridge from 1863 until his death in 1884. He had been blinded in an accident in 1857 and, after their marriage, Millicent served as Henry'ssecretary, both in his work as an MP and in his scholarly writing. Millicent developed expert knowledge of Classical Political Economy as she helped him prepare lectures and books. While Millicent was assisting Henry with the third edition of his textbook, Manual for Political Economy, they decided she should write a small book to briefly explain the important principles of political economy for beginners. She supported the move to introduce political economy into schools and hoped her book "might help to make Political Economy a more popular study in boys' and girls' schools…." She quickly earned recognition, independently of Henry, as a political economist.

In addition to being an influential political economist, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was at the forefront of the Suffragist Movement in England. Henry and Millicent lived for six months in Cambridge and six months in London every year during their marriage. While in London, Henry acquainted Millicent with parliamentary politics and politicians and encouraged her to continue her own career as a writer. In 1867, just a month after their marriage, she was present in Parliament when John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett presented a petition known as the Application for Determination calling for female suffrage.

She began her activist career in 1868, after the birth of their daughter, when she published her first article, "Electoral Disabilities of Women," in which she argued that the lack of women's voting privileges in the political sphere halted social and industrial advancement. While Millicent Garrett Fawcett wrote about voting rights, women lacked other basic rights. In addition to writing, she joined the executive committee of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage, a group formed in response to the defeat of the petition for female suffrage. For the next fifty years, she fought tenaciously for women's rights. According to Spartacus Educational Biographies, she was known as a superb organizer, providing the hard day-by-decades of political strategies that contributed significantly to getting the job done. She lived to see women win the vote on equal terms with men in 1928.

Political Economy for Beginners is an introduction to the Classical Political Economy theory. Adam Smith originated the theory, published in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), and David Ricardo extended and updated the theory in the early 1800s. John Stuart Mill published his famous textbook, Principles of Political Economy, in 1848, stating the Ricardian Classical Doctrine fully and explicitly. However, by then, the appeal of the Classical Doctrine was waning as economists attempted to account for the economic developments associated with the Industrial Revolution. By 1860, the Classical school was under siege in Europe. The Wages Fund Doctrine was one target of criticism. The Wages Fund Doctrine had been developed by James Mill, John Stuart Mill's father, who argued that:
Universally,…, we may affirm, other things remaining the same, that if the ratio which capital and population bear to one another remains the same, wages will remain the same; if the ratio which capital bears to populations increases, wages will rise; if the ratio which population bears to capital increases, wages will fall
The Wages Fund Doctrine was criticized because it assumed that wages had a physiological minimum and it ignored the role of education and emigration in changing the nature and size of a population. In 1869, John Stuart Mill was forced to recant the doctrine. Recently, Mark Donoghue shows that Karl Marx argued that the wage fund doctrine characterized a certain stage of capitalist development in which variable capital usually associated with an annual harvest still far out weighted fixed capital in the industrial production process. In this sense, Marx updated classical economic theory by using the stages of development as a framework to analyze features of political economy in different historical contexts.

In contrast to the Wages Fund Doctrine, other tenets of Classical Political Economy have stood the test of time, notably Specialization, the Division of Labor and the Comparative Advantages that follow from specialization for any economy and for foreign trade. The Division of Labor is a method that breaks down the production of a commodity into a series of specific tasks, each performed by a different worker. In the chapter "On Labor," Millicent Garrett Fawcett uses the example of the tasks associated with making a glass bowl to illustrate how a series of tasks performed by different workers increase productivity and presents Adam Smith's view on the advantages of Specialization and the Division of Labor for productivity. The advantages Smith identified remain basic to economic theory in the twenty-first century. They are:
First, specialization permits individuals to take advantage of their existing abilities and skills…. Second, a worker who specializes in just one narrow area becomes more experienced and more skilled in that task with the passage of time. Third, and perhaps most important, the division of labor lets us adopt complex, large-scale production techniques unthinkable for an individual household.
While the concepts of Specialization and the Division of Labor enumerated by Smith are still basic to economic theory, they have led to the development of capital-intensive production processes undreamed of in the nineteenth century.

In the chapter "On Foreign Commerce," Millicent Garrett Fawcett argues that the natural consequence of free trade is that nations gradually increase the production of commodities for which they are best suited and decrease the production of commodities for which they have no particular facility. Known as the Law of Comparative Advantage, this means that nations have a comparative advantage if they specialize in the production of goods they produce cheaply with the lowest opportunity cost and exchanging those goods for other desired goods which have a higher opportunity cost. These issues of specialization, division of labor, and comparative advantage remain relevant in the twenty-first century, as national and world leaders formulate policies that impact the development of wealth in a global economy.

While we now know that many tenets of Classical Political Economy would stand the test of time, much of the Classical theory was being contested during the mid-nineteenth century. It was in this context that Henry Fawcett published his Manual of Political Economy (1863) and Millicent published her Political Economy for Beginners (1870). In addition, they co-authored Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects, which was published in 1872.

Remarkably, Millicent avoided the distractions of the controversies around Classical Political Economy to present the orthodox theory clearly and unambiguously. The Wages Fund Doctrine is central to her chapter "On The Wages of Labor." It seems likely that both Henry and Millicent Garrett Fawcett's contribution to political economy largely popularized the orthodox Classical theory. The perspective of the Classical school stretched deep into public opinion, in part through Millicent Garrett Fawcett's efforts to make political economy accessible to a generation of students.

In the preface to the second edition of Political Economy for Beginners, published in 1872, Fawcett reports that she added "a few little puzzles, which the learner is expected to solve for himself or herself…." Apparently the puzzles were difficult for beginners because she suggests in the preface of the third edition, published in 1876, that "in solving these problems the student will need to go a good deal beyond the contents of the chapter to which they are appended." She also reports that she had published a supplement to her book, which she titled Tales in Political Economy.
In order to help beginners through some of the difficulties connected with the subjects of currency and foreign trade, I have published a little book …which I hope may be useful to those young students who find that some of the puzzles carry them out of their depth.
In addition to the Fawcett circle of politicians and economists, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was part of a circle of Victorian feminists who were opening opportunities for themselves and the next generation of women. Spartacus Educational Biographies reports a story that Louisa Garrett used to tell of a scene she witnessed at the family home in Aldeburgh. The characters were her two youngest daughters, Elizabeth and Millicent, and their friend, Emily Davies.
Before the bedroom fire, the girls were brushing their hair. Emily was twenty-nine, Elizabeth twenty-three and Millicent thirteen. As they brushed, they debated. 'Women can get nowhere' said Emily, 'unless they are as well educated as men. I shall open the universities.' 'Yes,' agreed Elizabeth, 'we need education but we need an income too and we can't earn that without training and a profession. I shall start women in medicine. But what shall we do with Milly?' They agreed that she should get the parliamentary vote for women
In fact, Elizabeth did become the first female physician in England, was pivotal in opening the New Hospital for Women in 1872, and was Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women from 1883 to 1903. Her older sister Louise, a teacher, was active in the Society for the Employment of Women and co-founded Girton College for women in 1869. In addition to her writing and her work on behalf of suffrage, Millicent hosted a lecture series in her home that led to the establishment of Newnham College for Women at Cambridge in 1876. Throughout their lives, the Garrett sisters and their friends supported each other in their endeavors to create systemic change. Irene Peat suggests they "networked, shared platforms, attended committees and societies and formed new ones, lectured, published books, articles, essays and pamphlets, organized and handed out petitions, and sought sponsors and subscribers." For example, it was actually Elizabeth Garrett and Barbara Bodichon who co-drafted the petition for Women's Suffrage and gathered 1,550 signatures, which John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett presented to Parliament in 1866. Early in the twentieth century, according to Spartacus Educational Biographies, Millicent helped Josephine Butler in her campaign against the white slave traffic (child prostitution) and Clementina Black in her attempts to persuade the government to help protect low-paid women workers.

After Henry's early death in 1884, Millicent became more involved in politics and spent less time writing on economic subjects. Using her knowledge of parliamentary politics and her acquaintances with politicians, she maneuvered to introduce bills into the House of Commons almost every year, only to have them blocked or defeated. Millicent became a lighting rod for British anxieties about changing gender relations. She was ridiculed in the media and condemned in the House of Commons as a lady who "disgraced herself by speaking in public." The backlash only strengthened her resolve to gain rights for women. One of her most powerful arguments was that wealthy mistresses of large manors and estates employed gardeners, workmen, and laborers who could vote, but the women themselves could not vote regardless of their wealth. She also argued that if women had to pay taxes as men, they should have the same rights as men; and that if parliament made laws and if women had to obey those laws, then women should be part of the process of making those laws.

In 1900, Millicent Garrett Fawcett became President of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), a union of seventeen suffragist societies joined together to strengthen their position. Using constitutional politics and methods, Millicent and her feminist colleagues worked tenaciously toward their goal of liberal reform. She was prominent enough to be one of the first women appointed to sit on a Commission of Inquiry, in 1901 being appointed to the commission looking into the concentration camps created by the British for Boer civilians in Africa during the Boer War. During the 1912 parliamentary elections, she and the NUWSS bolted the Liberal Party and supported the Labor Party because the Liberal Prime Minister was a strong opponent of votes for women. When the British Government declared war on Germany in 1914, Millicent Garrett Fawcett said "Women your country needs you … Let us show ourselves worthy of citizenship, whether our claim to it be recognized or not." She declared the NUWSS would suspend all political activity until the conflict was over. Her dream was finally realized in 1918 when Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act that enfranchised married women and women over thirty. Millicent returned to her writing, producing books on influential women and the women's movement. Capping her remarkable career as a political economist and a suffragist, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1925.

Patricia M. Ulbrich, Ph.D., is a former professor of Women's Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Currently she is one of the founders of The Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, an organization that promotes equality for women and girls in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
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