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Murray N. Rothbard


Economic Thought Before Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, 1995, 556 pgs., index, bibliogrphy, notes


Reviewer comment:

Dr. Rothbard opens our eyes to the overlooked history of the numerous authors who wrote on economics prior to the late 18th century. He shows that there were many important original philosophers developing economic concepts and describing the real economic world prior to Adam Smith. He delivers a scathing critique of Smith and even more disdain for the wild acceptance Smith's work has received ever since. The broad conclusion the reader may reach about all this theorizing is that what an individual author wrote depended on his position in support of or opposition to the contemporary political power. In this respect authors considering economic issues were right in step with authors considering political power. Economic activity itself is a means, not an end; the ends - that is the results desired - are political, actually psychological as the rulers (and everyone) seeks his personal betterment.




Chapter 1 - The First philosopher - economists: the Greeks:

He begins with the ancient Greeks, especially Plato and Aristotle. The much more ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians certainly had flourishing economies and thought about economic issues, but we do not have enough information to describe their ideas well. He mentions briefly ancient Chinese thinking about economic issues in the context of broader philosophy.


Chapter 2 - The Christian Middle Ages:

He then skips over the Roman republic and focuses on the medieval Christian authors. But does discuss in some detail the legal codes of the late Roman Empire and their significant influence on medieval thinking. He discusses the ideas of many philosophers, mostly Christian theologians. The strong impression one receives from their intermitable arguments is that their theories were mostly divorced from the contemporary real economic activity or were efforts to oppose or curtail much of it.


Chapter 3 - From Middle Ages to Renaissance


Chapter 4 - The late Spanish scholastics


Chapter 5 - Protestants and Catholics


Chapter 6 - Absolutist thought in Italy and France


Chapter 7 -Mercantilism: serving the absolute state:

Again, Prof. Rothbard embeds theoritical writing in the real world of political action. The reader can learn that 'mercantilism' (a later term of derision) was a central part of the political policy of the absolutist state. As so often in history, the main theoriticians were attempting to justify the policies enacted or attempted by the rulers to enhance their own position and power.


Chapter 8 - French mercantilist throught in the seventeenth century:

Dr. Rothbard delves deeply into the writing of many leading authors. Again, their theories about economic issues depended on their positions with respect to support of the absolute monarchial system


Chapter 9 - The liberal reaction against mercantilism in seventeenth century France:

To oppose mercantilist theory was to oppose the power and policies of the absolutist government.


Chapter 10 - Mercantilism and freedom in England from the Tudors to the Civll War


Chapter 11 - Mercantilism and freedom in England from the Civil War to 1750


Chapter 12 - The founding father of modern economics: Richard Cantillon


Chapter 13 - Physiocracy in mid-eighteenth century France


Chapter 14 - The brilliance of Tugot


Chapter 15 - The Scottish Enlightenment


Chapter 16 - The celebrated Adam Smith


Chapter 17 - The spread of the Smithian movement


Bibliography essay


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