Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/741

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THE

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY.



APRIL, 1885.




THE CHARACTER AND DISCIPLINE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY.

By J. LAURENCE LAUGHLIN, Ph.D.,

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL ECONOMY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

WALTER BAGEHOT once said of certain literary economists, who had no bent for practical affairs, that they were "like astronomers who had never seen the stars." In fact, no small number of people believe that this applies to all political economists; that they do very well as students of books, but are unable to keep their heads in the midst of facts and actual business; and that only the "hard-headed" merchant is competent to explain the causes of what he sees to the uninitiated. As in many general beliefs, there is something just and right in this; and yet there is something too which is not included in it, which leads the holder of the belief to narrow and illiberal conclusions in regard to a very important study. A fair and candid consideration should be given to the qualities of mind called into play by the study of political economy, and then we may more easily judge of the character of the work demanded of an economist, and of the way in which these demands have been met.

It is axiomatic that not every person can succeed in political economy any more than in art or music. Some people, although admirably equipped in other directions, have attacked political economy with great zeal, only to realize finally that anything beyond a certain general knowledge and use of its principles is denied to them. Any hint, therefore, although imperfect as mine may be, of a knowledge of the mental qualities requisite for success in such a study, will at least set to thinking those who propose to begin it, and possibly lead those