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Friedrich Engels (1843): Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy: Weekend Reading

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Friedrich Engels (1843): Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy: "The eighteenth century, the century of revolution, also revolutionised economics. But... all the revolutions of this century were one-sided and bogged down in antitheses... ...It did not occur to economics to question the validity of private property. Therefore, the new economics was only half an advance.... It withdrew its favour from the producers and bestowed it on the consumers. It affected a solemn abhorrence of the bloody terror of the Mercantile System, and proclaimed trade to be a bond of friendship and union among nations as among individuals. All was pure splendour and magnificence–yet the premises reasserted themselves soon enough... struck down all those beautiful phrases about philanthropy and world

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Friedrich Engels 1820 1895 German socialist directing the Stock Photo 57348937 Alamy

Friedrich Engels (1843): Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy: "The eighteenth century, the century of revolution, also revolutionised economics. But... all the revolutions of this century were one-sided and bogged down in antitheses...

...It did not occur to economics to question the validity of private property. Therefore, the new economics was only half an advance.... It withdrew its favour from the producers and bestowed it on the consumers. It affected a solemn abhorrence of the bloody terror of the Mercantile System, and proclaimed trade to be a bond of friendship and union among nations as among individuals. All was pure splendour and magnificence–yet the premises reasserted themselves soon enough... struck down all those beautiful phrases about philanthropy and world citizenship. The premises begot and reared the factory system and modern slavery, which yields nothing in inhumanity and cruelty to ancient slavery. Modern economics–the system of free trade based on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations–reveals itself to be that same hypocrisy, inconsistency and immorality which now confront free humanity in every sphere.

But was Smith’s system, then, not an advance? Of course it was, and a necessary advance at that. It was necessary to overthrow the mercantile system with its monopolies and hindrances to trade, so that the true consequences of private property could come to light.... We gladly concede that it is only the justification and accomplishment of free trade that has enabled us to go beyond the economics of private property; but we must at the same time have the right to expose the utter theoretical and practical nullity of this free trade. The nearer to our time the economists whom we have to judge, the more severe must our judgment become. For while Smith and Malthus found only scattered fragments, the modern economists had the whole system complete before them: the consequences had all been drawn; the contradictions came clearly enough to light; yet they did not come to examining the premises, and still accepted the responsibility for the whole system. The nearer the economists come to the present time, the further they depart from honesty. With every advance of time, sophistry necessarily increases, so as to prevent economics from lagging behind the times. This is why Ricardo, for instance, is more guilty than Adam Smith, and McCulloch and Mill more guilty than Ricardo...


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Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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