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In preparing this little treatise, I have tried to put the truths of Political Economy into a form suitable for elementary instruction. While connected with Owens College, it was my duty, as Cobden Lecturer on Political Economy, to instruct a class of pupil-teachers, in order that they might afterwards introduce the teaching of this important subject into elementary schools. There can be no doubt that it is most desirable to disseminate knowledge of the truths of political economy through all classes of the
population by any means which may be available. From ignorance of these truths arise many of the worst social evils—disastrous strikes and lockouts, opposition to improvements, improvidence, destitution, misguided charity, and discouraging failure in many well-intended measures. More than forty years ago Miss Martineau successfully popularised the truths of political economy in her admirable tales. About the same time, Archbishop Whately was much struck with the need of inculcating knowledge of these matters at an early age. With this view he prepared his “Easy Lessons on Money Matters,” of which many editions have been printed. In early boyhood I learned my first ideas of political economy from a copy of these lessons, from the preface to which I quote these remarks of Whately: “The rudiments of sound knowledge concerning these (subjects) may, it has been found by experience, be communicated at a very early age... Those, therefore, who are engaged in conducting, or in patronising or promoting education,
should consider it a matter of no small moment to instil, betimes, just notions on subjects with which all must in after-life be practically conversant, and in which no class of men, from the highest to the lowest, can, in such a country as this at least, be safely left in ignorance or in error." In later years like opinions have been held and efforts made by Mr. William Ellis, Professor W. B. Hodgson, Dr. John Watts, Mr. Templar, and others, and experience seems to confirm both the need and the practicability of the teaching advocated by Whately. But it is evident that one condition of success in such efforts is the possession of a small text-book exactly suited to the purposes in view. Relying upon my experience of ten years in the instruction of pupil-teachers at Manchester, I have now put my lessons into the simplest form which the nature of the subject seems to render advisable.
It is hoped that this little treatise may also serve as a stepping-stone to a knowledge of the science among general readers of maturer age, who have hitherto neglected the study of political economy.
Owing to the narrow limits of the space at my disposal, it was impossible to treat the whole of the science in a satisfactory way. I have, therefore, omitted some parts of political economy altogether, and have passed over other parts very briefly. Thus the larger portion of my space has been reserved for such subjects as Production, Division of Labour, Capital and Labour, Trades-Unions, and Commercial Crises, which are most likely to be interesting and useful to readers of this Primer.
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, GOWER STREET, LONDON, W.C.
31st January, 1878.
1. What is Political Economy? Political Economy treats of the wealth of nations; it inquires into the causes which make one nation more rich and prosperous than another. It aims at teaching what should be done in order that poor people may be as few as possible, and that everybody may, as a general rule, be well paid for his work. Other sciences, no doubt, assist us in reaching the same end. The science of mechanics shows how to obtain force, and how to use it in working machines. Chemistry teaches how useful substances may be produced-how beautiful dyes and odours and oils, for instance, may be extra cted from the disagreeable refuse of the gasworks. Astronomy is necessary for the navigation of the oceans. Geology guides in the search for coal and metals.
Various social sciences, also, are needed to promote the welfare of mankind. Jurisprudence treats of the legal rights of persons, and how they may be best defined and secured by just laws. Political Philosophy inquires into the different forms of government and their relative advantages. Sanitary Science ascertains the causes of disease. The science of Statistics collects all manner of facts relating to the state or community. All these sciences are useful in showing how we may be made more healthy, wealthy, and wise.
But Political Economy is distinct from all these other sciences, and treats of wealth itself; it inquires what wealth is; how we can best consume it when we have got it; and how we may take advantage of the other sciences to get it. People are fond of finding fault with political economy, because it treats only of wealth; they say that there are many better things than wealth, such as virtue, affection, generosity. They would have us study these good qualities rather than mere wealth.
A man may grow rich by making hard bargains, and saving up his money like a miser. Now as this is not nearly so good as if he were to spend his wealth for the benefit of his relatives, friends, and the public generally, they proceed to condemn the science of wealth.
But these complainers misunderstand the purpose of a science like political economy. They do not see that in learning we must do one thing at a time.
We cannot learn the social sciences all at the same time. No one objects to astronomy that it treats only of the stars, or to mathematics that it treats only of numbers and quantities. It would be a very curious Science Primer which should treat of astronomy, geology, chemistry, physics, physiology, &c., all at once. There must be many physical sciences, and there must be also many social sciences, and each of these sciences must treat of its own proper subject, and not of things in general.
2. Mistakes about Political Economy. A great many mistakes are made about the science we are going to consider by people who ought to know better. These mistakes often arise from people thinking that they understand all about political economy
thout studying it. No ordinary person of sense ventures to contradict a chemist about chemistry, or an astronomer about eclipses, or even a geologist about rocks and fossils. But everybody has his opinion one way or another about bad trade, or the effect of high wages, or the harm of being underbid by cheap labour, or any one of hundreds of questions of social importance. It does not occur to such people that these matters are really more difficult to understand than chemistry, or astronomy, or geology, and that a lifetime of study is not sufficient to enable