Thomas Hodgskin, Socialist or Anti-Privilege Libertarian?



Abstract: Thomas Hodgskin (1797–1869) is still studied as a forerunner of modern socialism: in fact, he is typically characterized as a prominent “Ricardian socialist”. Among the most influential of Hodgskin’s works was his pamphlet Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital (1825a), thus prefiguring with its very title announces a denunciation of capitalism. Hodgskin’s work should be considered instead in its entirety, paying proper attention to its nuances. If Hodgskin indeed chastised “capitalism,” he meant precisely what we now call “crony capitalism.” He did not condemn the “higgling of the market,” which he thought should be the sole mechanism by which resources, including human labour, are allocated. But he saw clearly that legislative meddling served specific interests and often prevented market forces to emerge and blossom. If he was unfriendly towards the “capitalist” class, it was only because he saw them as disproportionally benefiting from the favour of political power. Hodgskin denounced the idle classes but did not want to substitute the market process with any alternative distributive scheme. He considered a sound understanding of an innovation-fostering economy incompatible with archaic distribution of privilege on the part of government. His work can help to clarify how embracing the market economy did and does not entail a defence of the status quo.

Suffrage, labour markets and coalitions in colonial Virginia



Abstract: We study Virginia’s suffrage from the early-17th century until the American Revolution using an analytical narrative and econometric analysis of unique data on franchise restrictions. First, we hold that suffrage changes reflected labour market dynamics. Indeed, Virginia’s liberal institutions initially served to attract indentured servants from England who were needed in the labour-intensive tobacco farming but deteriorated once worker demand subsided and planters replaced white workers with slaves. Second, we argue that Virginia’s suffrage was also the result of political bargaining influenced by shifting societal coalitions. We show that new politically influential coalitions of freemen and then of small and large slave-holding farmers emerged in the second half of the 17th and early-18th centuries, respectively. These coalitions were instrumental in reversing the earlier democratic institution\s. Our main contribution stems from integrating the labour markets and bargaining/coalitions arguments, thus proving a novel theoretical and empirical explanation for institutional change.

A model of the beginnings of coinage in antiquity



Abstract: There have been important advances by archeologists and numismatists in recent decades in the study of the beginnings of coinage in Ionia, Lydia, and Greece before the fifth century B.C. This paper provides a model of the birth of coinage that brings these advances into a broad analysis of the subject-matter. It pulls together many factors that are often treated separately. In addition, the model yields one important new result. Contrary to popular assumption, early coinage was not highly profitable. The Lydian government and the Greek city-states provided an extremely wide array of denominations of coins in a single precious metal at considerable cost. Their willingness to bear this cost must have reflected a political strategy of promoting coinage. Such a political strategy would also be easy to explain. As a large payer and recipient of money in the form of precious metals, the government had much to gain from the spread of coinage in order to economize on transaction costs in its own affairs.

Classical Liberalism in Italian Economic Thought, from the Time of Unification


ECON JOURNAL WATCH, Volume 14, Issue 1

Abstract: Although classical liberalism has not had a profound impact on political institutions in Italy since its unification in the 1860s, the country had a vibrant classical liberal tradition, especially among economists. The Italian scuola di scienza delle finanze played a key role in anticipating the approach later identified with public choice economics, and accordingly it was highly valued and appraised by James M. Buchanan. While many Italian classical liberal thinkers, both in the 19th and in the 20th century, are still by and large ignored outside the boundaries of Italy, several have had an important impact on the ideas of liberals around the world. This paper summarizes the development of classical liberalism in Italy since the 1860s, focusing on liberal economists who took part in public debate. Political realism has been a unifying feature of the Italian liberal tradition, including a strong skepticism toward ‘industrial policy,’ as top-down industrial development has been promoted by government ever since unification. This paper broadly outlines the key thinkers in this tradition: Francesco Ferrara, Vilfredo Pareto, Luigi Einaudi, Bruno Leoni, and Sergio Ricossa.

Greying the Budget: Ageing and Preferences over Public Policies


KYKLOS, Volume 70, Issue 1

Abstract: This paper looks at how individual attitudes towards the allocation of government spending change along the life cycle. As individuals age and re-evaluate the benefits and costs of government programs, such as education, healthcare and old-age pensions, they also influence the level and composition of government spending. Using the Life in Transition Survey II for 34 countries of Europe and Central Asia, we find that older individuals are less likely to support hikes in government outlays on education and more likely to support increases in spending on pensions. These results are very similar across countries, and they do not change when using alternative model specifications, estimation methods and data sources. To our knowledge, this the first paper to provide evidence of the “grey peril” effect for a large group of developed, middle-income and low-income economies. Our findings are consistent with a body of literature arguing that conflict across generations over the allocation of government expenditure may intensify in ageing economies.

Robust Political Economy Revisited: Response to Critics


CRITICAL REVIEW, Volume 28, Issue 3-4

Abstract: Robust political economy is the attempt to theorize about political institutions in such a way as to guard against the knowledge and incentive problems that we can expect will threaten the public good in the real world. An implication of this attempt is the need to reason symmetrically about whether a proposed institution is liable to be as prone to failure due to knowledge and incentive problems as the situations it is designed to address. Another implication is that one should be wary of ad hoc institutional or policy proposals, that is, proposals that are not grounded in systematic tendencies to mitigate the knowledge and incentive problems. With these implications in mind, I am not convinced that the alternative institutions, conceptions of the state, and conceptions of social justice defended by my critics meet the test of robustness that, I maintain, can best be met through decentralization of power down to the level of the individual.

What Makes a Utopia Inconvenient? On the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Realist Orientation to Politics



Abstract: Contemporary politics is often said to lack utopias. For prevailing understandings of the practical force of political theory, this looks like cause for celebration. As blueprints to apply to political practice, utopias invariably seem too strong or too weak. Through an immanent critique of political realism, I argue that utopian thought, and political theory generally, is better conceived as supplying an orientation to politics. Realists including Bernard Williams and Raymond Geuss explain how utopian programs like universal human rights poorly orient their adherents to politics, but the realists wrongly conclude that utopias and other ideal theories necessarily disorient us. As I show through an analysis of utopian claims made by Michel Foucault, Malcolm X, and John Rawls, utopias today can effectively disrupt entrenched forms of legitimation, foster new forms of political identity, and reveal new possibilities within existing institutions. Utopias are needed to understand the political choices we face today.