Who was John Stuart Mill and what were his contributions to the economy?

Who was John Stuart Mill and what were his contributions to the economy?

John Stuart Mill (May 20, 1806 – May 7, 1873), usually cited as JS Mill, was a British philosopher, political economist, and civil servant. He was one of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, contributing extensively to social theory, political theory, and political economy. Dubbed “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century”, Mill’s conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual as opposed to unlimited state and social control.

Mill was a proponent of utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by his predecessor Jeremy Bentham. He contributed to the investigation of scientific methodology, although his knowledge of the subject was based on the writings of others, notably William Whewell, John Herschel, and Auguste Comte, and the research carried out for Mill by Alexander Bain. John Stuart Mill engaged in a written debate with Whewell.

A member of the Liberal Party and the author of the early feminist work The Subjection of Women, he was also the second Member of Parliament to call for women’s suffrage after Henry Hunt in 1832.

Biography of John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill was born at 13 Rodney Street in Pentonville, Middlesex, the eldest son of the Scottish philosopher, historian, and economist James Mill and Harriet Barrow. John Stuart was educated by his father, with the advice and assistance of Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place. He was given an extremely rigorous upbringing and was deliberately shielded from association with children his age other than his siblings. His father, a follower of Bentham and supporter of associationism, had as an explicit goal to create a genius intellect to carry out the cause of utilitarianism and its implementation after he and Bentham had died.

Mill was a remarkably precocious child. He describes his education in his autobiography. At age three he was taught Greek. By the age of eight, he had read Aesop’s Fables, Xenophon’s Anabasis, and all of Herodotus, and knew Lucian, Diogenes Laërtius, Isocrates, and six of Plato’s dialogues. He had also read a great deal of history in English and had been taught arithmetic, physics, and astronomy.

At the age of eight, Mill began studying Latin, the works of Euclid, and algebra and was appointed school teacher for the younger children of the family. His main reading was still history, but he went through all the commonly taught Latin and Greek authors, and, at the age of ten, he could read Plato and Demosthenes with ease. His father also thought it was important for Mill to study and compose poetry. One of Mill’s earliest poetic compositions was a continuation of the Iliad.

In his free time, he also liked to read about natural sciences and popular novels, such as Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe.

His father’s work, The History of British India, was published in 1818; Immediately afterward, at about the age of twelve, Mill began a thorough study of scholastic logic, while simultaneously reading Aristotle’s logical treatises in the original language. The following year, he was introduced to political economy and studied Adam Smith and David Ricardo with his father, finally completing his classical economic view of the factors of production. Mill’s summary of his daily economics lessons helped his father write Elements of Political Economy. in 1821, a textbook to promote the ideas of Ricardian economics; however, the book lacked popular support. Ricardo, who was a close friend of his father, used to invite young Mill to his house for a walk to talk about political economy.

At the age of fourteen, Mill stayed in France for a year with the family of Sir Samuel Bentham, brother of Jeremy Bentham. The mountain scenery he saw led to a lifelong taste for mountain scenery. The cheerful and friendly way of life of the French also left a deep impression on him. In Montpellier, he attended the winter courses on chemistry, zoology, and logic at the Faculty of Sciences, as well as a course on higher mathematics. Coming to and from France, he stayed in Paris for a few days at the home of the famous economist Jean – Baptiste Say, a friend of Mill’s father. There he met many leaders of the Liberal party, as well as other notable Parisians, including Henri Saint -Simon.

Mill spent months of sadness and contemplated suicide in his early twenties. According to the opening paragraphs of Chapter V of his autobiography, he had wondered if creating a just society, his life goal would make him happy. His heart answered “no”, and as expected he lost the happiness of fighting for this goal. Finally, the poetry of William Wordsworth showed him that beauty generates compassion for others and stimulates joy. With renewed joy, he continued to work towards a just society, but with more joy for the ride. He considered this one of the most important changes in his thinking. Many of the differences between him and his father stem from this source of expanded joy.

John Stuart Mill had been in a correspondence friendship with Auguste Comte, the founder of positivism and sociology, since Mill first contacted Comte in November 1841.

Comte’s sociology was more of an early scientific philosophy than perhaps we know today, and positivist philosophy helped. in Mill’s broad rejection of Benthamism.

As a nonconformist who refused to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, Mill was ineligible to study at Oxford University or Cambridge University. Instead, he followed his father to work for the East India Company and attended University College London to listen to lectures by John Austin, the first Professor of Jurisprudence. He was elected a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1856.

John Stuart Mill’s career as a colonial administrator in the British East India Company spanned from the age of 17 in 1823 until 1858, when the British Crown over India abolished the Company in favor of the direct rule.

In 1836, he was promoted to the Political Department of the Company, where he was responsible for correspondence relating to the Company’s relations with the princely states, and in 1856, he was finally promoted to the position of Examiner of Indian Correspondence.

In On Liberty, A Few Words on Nonintervention, and other works, Mill defended British imperialism by arguing that a fundamental distinction existed between civilized and barbarian peoples. Mill considered that countries like India and China were once progressive, but were now stagnant and barbarian, thus legitimizing British rule as benevolent despotism, “as long as the end is [the barbarians’] betterment.”. When the crown proposed to take direct control over the colonies in India, he was charged with defending the Company’s government, drawing up a Memorandum on improvements in the administration of India during the last thirty years, among other requests. He was offered a post on the Council of India, the body set up to advise the new Secretary of State for India, but he turned it down, citing his disapproval of the new system of government.


Who was John Stuart Mill and what were his contributions to the economy?

John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor

In 1851, Mill married Harriet Taylor after 21 years of close friendship. Taylor had married another man when they met, and their relationship was close at the time of Taylor’s first marriage, but she generally believed herself to be chaste during the years before her first husband’s death in 1849. The couple waited two years before marrying in 1851. Taylor was a highly intelligent woman and was a significant influence on Mill’s work and ideas during their friendship and marriage. Her relationship with Harriet Taylor reinforced Mill’s advocacy of women’s rights.

John Stuart Mill said that his stance against domestic violence, and for women’s rights, was “mainly a reflection of my wife’s thinking”. He called her mind a “perfect instrument,” and said that she was “the most eminently qualified of all known to the author.” He cites her influence in his final revision of On Liberty, which was published shortly after her death. Taylor died in 1858 after developing severe pulmonary congestion, after only seven years of marriage to Mill.

Last years

Between the years 1865 and 1868 Mill served as Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews. In his inaugural address, delivered to the University on February 1, 1867, he made the now famous (but often misattributed) observation that “bad men need nothing else to achieve their ends, let good men look and see not.” do nothing”.

During the same period, 1865-1868, he was also a Member of Parliament for the City and Westminster. John Stuart Mill entered there with the support of the Liberal Party. During his time as MP, Mill advocated tax relief for Ireland. In 1866, Mill became the first person in the history of Parliament to call for women to be given the right to vote, strongly defending this position in the ensuing debate.

Mill became a strong advocate for social reforms such as trade unions and agricultural cooperatives. In Considerations on Representative Government, Mill called for various reforms of Parliament and voting, especially proportional representation, the single transferable vote, and extension of the franchise.

In April 1868, Mill favored in a Commons debate the retention of capital punishment for crimes such as aggravated murder; he called its abolition “effeminacy in the general mind of the country.”

He was the godfather of the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

In his views on religion, Mill was agnostic and skeptical.

Mill died in 1873 in erysipelas in Avignon, France, where his body was buried next to his wife’s.

Economic Thought of John Stuart Mill

Mill’s early economic philosophy was one of the free markets. However, he accepted interventions in the economy, such as a tax on alcohol, if there were sufficient utilitarian motives. He also accepted the principle of legislative intervention for animal welfare purposes. Mill originally believed that “equal taxation” meant “equality of sacrifice” and that progressive taxation penalized those who worked hardest and saved the most and was therefore ” a mild form of theft.”

Given an equal tax rate regardless of income, Mill agreed that the inheritance should be taxed. A utilitarian society would agree that everyone should be equal in one way or another. Therefore, receiving the inheritance would put one ahead of society unless the inheritance was taxed.

Those who donate should carefully consider and choose where their money goes, Mill thought: some charities are more deserving than others. Taking into account that the public welfare boards, like a government, will disburse the money equally. However, a private charity such as a church would fairly disburse the money to those who are in greater need than others.

He later altered his views towards a more socialist bent, adding chapters to his Principles of Political Economy advocating a socialist perspective and advocating some socialist causes. Within this revised work, he also made the radical proposal to abolish the entire wage system in favor of a cooperative wage system. Nonetheless, some of his views on the idea of ​​flat taxation remained, albeit altered in the third edition of Principles of Political Economy to reflect a concern with differentiating restrictions on “unearned” income, which he favored, and those on “earned” income. , which he did not favor.

Mill’s Principles, first published in 1848, was one of the most widely read economics books of the period. As Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations did during an earlier period, Mill’s Principles dominated the teaching of economics. In the case of Oxford University, it was the standard text until 1919, when it was superseded by Marshall’s Principles of Economics.

Economic democracy

His main objection to socialism was over what he perceived as the destruction of competition by saying: “I completely dissent from the most striking and vehement part of its teachings: its statements against competition.” Mill was an egalitarian, but he argued more for equality of opportunity and placed meritocracy above all other ideals in this regard. According to Mill, a socialist society would only be possible by providing basic education for all, promoting economic democracy instead of capitalism, in the form of replacing capitalist enterprises with worker cooperatives.

In one of his writings on the matter, John Stuart Mill states:

However, the form of association, which if humanity continues to improve, must, in the end, be expected to prevail, is not that which can exist between a capitalist as boss and workers with no say in management, but rather the association of the workers themselves under conditions of equality, who collectively own the capital with which they carry out their operations and work under self -appointed and removable managers(Principles of Political Economy)

Political democracy

Mill’s main work on political democracy, Considerations on Representative Government, defends two main principles: broad participation of citizens and enlightened competence of the rulers. The two values ​​are obviously in tension, and some readers have concluded that he is an elite Democrat., while others regard him as a former participatory democrat. In one section, he appears to advocate plural voting, in which more competent citizens receive additional votes (a view he later repudiated). But in chapter 3 he makes what remains one of the most eloquent cases for the value of participation by all citizens. He believed that the incompetence of the masses could be overcome if they were allowed to participate in politics, especially at the local level.

The mill is one of the few political philosophers to have ever served in government as an elected official. In his three years in Parliament, he was more willing to compromise than the ‘radical’ principles expressed in his brief would lead one to expect.

John Stuart Mill was a great advocate for the spread and use of public education for the working class. Mill saw the value of the person and believed that ” man had the inherent ability to guide his own destiny, but only if his faculties were developed and fulfilled”, which could be achieved through education.

Mill saw education as a way to improve human nature, which for him meant “encouraging, among other characteristics, diversity and originality, energy of character, initiative, autonomy, intellectual cultivation, aesthetic sensibility, interests others, prudence, responsibility and self-control».

Education enabled, according to Mill, citizens to become fully informed individuals who had the tools to improve their status and make fully informed electoral decisions. The power of education lies in its ability to serve as a great equalizer between the classes, allowing the working class the ability to control their destiny and compete with the upper classes. Mill recognized the paramount importance of public education in avoiding the tyranny of the majority by ensuring that all voters and political participants were fully-fledged individuals. According to Mill, it was through education that one could become a full participant in representative democracy.

Theories of wealth and income distribution

In “Principles of Political Economy ,” Mill offered an analysis of two economic phenomena often conjoined: the laws of production and wealth and the modes of their distribution. Regarding the former, Mill believed that it was not possible to alter the laws of production, “the ultimate properties of matter and mind…only to employ these properties to produce events of interest to us.” The modes of distribution of wealth are a matter exclusively for human institutions, beginning with what Mill believed to be the primary and fundamental institution: individual property.

John Stuart Mill believed that all individuals should start on an equal footing, with an equal division of the instruments of production.

All members of society, since each member has the same amount of individual property, must be left to their efforts lest the state interfere.

Regarding inequality of wealth, Mill believed that it was the role of government to establish social and economic policies that promote equality of opportunity.

The government, according to Mill, must implement three tax policies to help alleviate poverty, (1) a fairly assessed income tax, (2) an inheritance tax, and (3) a policy to restrict consumption. sumptuary.

The inheritance of capital and wealth plays an important role in the development of inequality since they provide a greater opportunity for those who receive the inheritance. Mill’s solution to the inequality of wealth caused by inheritance was to implement a higher inheritance tax because he believed that the most important authoritative function of government is taxation, and judiciously implemented taxation could promote equality.

The environment

Mill demonstrated an early view of the value of the natural world, notably in Book IV, Chapter VI of Principles of Political Economy: “Of the Steady State” in which Mill recognized wealth beyond the material, and argued that the logical conclusion of unlimited growth was the destruction of the environment and a reduction in the quality of life. He concluded that a steady state might be preferable to endless economic growth:

Therefore, I cannot regard the steady states of capital and wealth with the unaffected aversion that political economists of the old school generally display.

If the earth should lose that great part of its pleasure which it owes to things which unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the sole purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not better or happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, let them be content to be stationed, long before necessity compels them to do so.

Profit rate

According to Mill, the latest trend in an economy is for the rate of profit to decline due to diminishing returns in agriculture and population increasing at a Malthusian rate.

John Stuart Mill Books and Publications

“Two Letters on the Measure of Value” 1822
“Population Questions” 1823
“War Expenditures” 1824
“Quarterly Review – Political Economy” 1825
“Review of Miss Martineau’s Tales” 1830
“The Spirit of the Age” 1831
” Use and Abuse of Political Terms» 1832
«What is Poetry» 1833, 1859
«Justification of Representation» 1835
«De Tocqueville on Democracy in America» 1835
«State of Society in America» 1836
«Civilization » 1836
«Essay on Bentham» 1838
«Essay on Coleridge» 1840
«Essays on Government» 1840
«De Tocqueville on Democracy in America» 1840
A System of Logic 1843
Essays on Some Unsettled Questions in Political Economy 1844
“Labour Claims” 1845
The Principles of Political Economy: With Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy 1848
“The Negro Question” 1850
“Public Administration Reform” 1854
Dissertations and Discussions 1859
A Few Words on Nonintervention 1859
On Liberty 1859
Reflections on the Parliamentary Reform of 1859
Considerations on Representative Government 1861
“Centralization” 1862 Edinburgh Review
“The Contest in America” ​​1862 Harper’s Magazine
Utilitarianism 1863
An Examination of the philosophy of sir William hamilton 1865
Auguste Comte and Positivism 1865
Inaugural Address at St. Andrews on the Value of Culture 1867
“Address for Capital Punishment” 1868
England and Ireland 1868
“Thornton on Work and its Claims” 1869
The Subjection of Women 1869
Chapters and Discourses on the Irish Land Question 1870
Nature, the Utility of Religion, and Theism 1874
Autobiography 1873
Three Essays on Religion 1874
Socialism 1879 Belford’s, Clarke & Co.
“Notes on the Political Economy of NW Senior” 1945


The economic thought of John Stuart Mill is characterized by certain utopian presuppositions such as egalitarianism, which from very early times point to the inability of existing economies (semi-liberal, barely emerging from mercantilism ) to offer a more acceptable development to societies of the time and therefore the very inability of the economic system to offer more legitimate outlets. However, in general terms, Mill is conceived as a utilitarian classical liberal, albeit with a strong influence on the various forms of democratic socialism of the time.

John Stuart Mill stands out for the progressive ideas he espoused such as his opposition to slavery, regardless of education, race, or social status. Mill also promoted democracy in favor of minorities, seeking to avoid authoritarianism and the dictatorship of the majority.

Another notable idea that Mill defends in economic matters is public ownership of natural resources and the idea that progress cannot occur at the cost of over-exploitation and depletion of natural resources.

The value that John Stuart Mill gives to education as an element that configures better social opportunities and empowers citizens to improve their lifestyle and their economy is highlighted.

From very early on, Mill also observed the negative effects of inherited wealth on the development of more equitable societies, which is why he proposed severe taxes on inheritances to create a more harmonious society.

One of the most interesting elements of Mill’s economic theory is the Steady State Theory in which economies go beyond the growth paradigm and are molded into a State model that supplies needs in optimal quantities. Mill argued that the increase in wealth would not be infinite and that the end of this growth would lead to a steady state of capital. Mill, unlike Malthus and Smith, viewed this stationary state favorably, since he used to argue that the end of capital and growth did not necessarily imply the worsening of human conditions both morally and socially.

With information from Wikipedia.


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