The British Economic Association

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The British Economic Association (1891)
by Francis Ysidro Edgeworth
1743446The British Economic Association1891Francis Ysidro Edgeworth


MARCH, 1891


The British Economic Association is open to all schools and parties; no person is excluded because of his opinions. The Economic Journal, issued under the uthority of the Ass6cition, will be conducted in a similar spirit of toleration. It will be open to writers of different schools. The most opposite doctrines may meet here as on a fair field. Thus the difficulties of Socialism will be considered in the first number; the difficulties of Individualism in the second. Opposing theories of currency will be represented with equal impartiality. Nor will it be attempted to prescribe the method, any more than the result, of scientific investigation.

Is it extravagant to hope that this toleration of the differences between the votaries of economic science may tend to produce agreement between them? 'A little generous prudence, a little forbearance for one another,... might win all these diligences to join and unite into one general and brotherly search for truth.' What Milton hoped for theology in the seventeenth century may prove true of political economy in the nineteenth.

Meanwhile, it will be the task of the Editor and his coadjutors, unbiassed by their personal convictions, to select the ablest representatives of each important interest. The Association is to be not only 'British' in its love of fair play and free speech, but also ' Economic' in the character which the term suggests of special knowledge and scientific accuracy.

As a fuller and more authentic statement of the principles on which the Association is based, the report of the speeches which the promoters of the Association delivered on the occasion of its foundation is submitted to the readers of the Journal by

The Editor.

Report of the Proceedings at the Meeting which Inaugurated the Brithish Economic Association.

A meeting was held on the afternoon of November 21, 1890, at University College, London, under the presidency of Mr. Goschen, to discuss proposals for the foundation of an economic society or association, and in conjunction therewith of an economic journal. In the circular convening the meeting, and signed by Professor Alfred Marshall, of Cambridge, it is stated that 'the need of an economic journal has long been felt in England. Every other country in which economic studies are pursued with great activity offers facilities for the publication of thorough scientific work by persons who have not the time, or are unwilling, to write a formal treatise. Since isolated pamphlets, however able, seldom obtain any considerable circulation, Englishmen who have something to say that is too technical for the ordinary magazines, and too short for a book, are sometimes compelled to give their views to the world in the columns of a foreign periodical, or as a publication of the American Economic Association; but more frequently they put it aside till an opportunity should offer for working it out more fully and publishing it as a book; and that opportunity too often does not come. A strong and widespread feeling that English economists, and especially the younger men among them, are thus placed at a great disadvantage through the want of any easy means of communication with one another, has led to the holding of many private meetings and discussions on the subject in Oxford, Cambridge, London, and possibly elsewhere; and lately the matter has come under consideration of the committee of Section F (Economics and Statistics) of the British Association.' It was also felt 'that some security should be afforded that the journal should always represent all shades of economic opinion, and be the organ not of one school of English economists, but of all schools; and it is thought that this end will be best attained by the publication of the journal under the authority of an economic association.'

About two hundred persons were present, among whom may be mentioned

Mr. Talbot Agar, Mr. Ernest Aves, Mr. A. E. Bateman, Mr. H. R. Beeton, Mr. James Bonar, Mr. Edward Bond, Professor Bonney, Mr. Charles Booth, the Misses Borchardt, Mr. Stephen Bourne, Mrs. Bryant, D.Sc., Sir G. Campbell, M.P., Mr. Edwin Cannan, Mr. Hyde Clarke, Miss Clara Collet, M.A., Mr. A. K. Connell, Mr. Leonard Courtney, M.P., Major Craigie, Professor Edgeworth, Mr. T. H. Elliott, Mr. J. Eric Erichsen (President of University College), Mrs. Fawcett, Mr. A. W. Flux, Miss Caroline Foley, M.A., Sir R. N. Fowler, M.P., Professor Foxwell, Dr. Fream, Professor Gannet, Mr. P. Lyttleton Gell, Dr. R. Giffen, Mr. Rowland Hamilton, Mr. A. S. Harvey, Miss Ada Heather-Bigg, Mr. Elijah Helm, Mr. Henry Higgs, Miss Octavia Hill, Mr. Alfred Hoare, Mr. Howell, M.P., Mr. George Howell, Mr. Benjamin Jones, Miss Constance Jones, Mr. J. N. Keynes, Mr. J. H. Levy, Mr. John Macdone]l, Professor Alfred Marshall, Mrs. Alfred Marshall, Mr. J. B. Martin, Mr. A. Milnes, Dr. Mouat, Mr. Moulton, Q.C., Mr. F. G. P. Nelson, Mr. R. H. Inglis Palgrave, the Rev. L. R. Phelps, Mr. L. L. Price, Mr. A.D. Provand, Mr. John Rae, Dr. R. D. Roberts, Mr. David Schloss, Mr. Bernard Shaw, Professor Sidgwick, Mr. Geo. Armitage Smith, Mr. Llewellyn Smith, and Sir George Young.

Mr. Goschen, in opening the proceedings, said,—-The first resolution, which has been provided as a basis for discussion, is to the following effect:—'That it is expedient to form an Association for the advancement of economic knowledge by the issue of a journal and other printed publications, and by such other means as the association may from time to time agree to adopt.' I think it would be expedient that in the first instance those who have thought out this matter, and to whom the conception is mainly due, should speak to this resolution, and that I should be allowed to reserve any observations I may make upon it to a later stage of the proceedings. I will therefore call upon Professor Marshall to move the first resolution.

Professor Marshall said that the reason why he was put forward to speak first on the subject was the accident that he happened to be in the chair in Section F of the British Association in that particular year in which the movement, which had long been maturing, was at last ripened. A great number of circulars were sent out, and they had had no answer from anyone to the effect that the time was not ripe. No economist had refused help, and almost everyone had promised active help. It was remarkable that England was in these matters behind other countries; but this state of things was due not to the want of careful consideration of the matter, but to sad accident. For although England in 1870 had a stronger array of economists than any other country--not more learned, but more full of creative power within a few years the greater number of them were dead. Cairnes, Jevons, Bagehot, Cliffe Leslie, Toynbee, and Fawcett, whose power and originality placed them in the first rank, and who would have been the right men to take the lead in such a movement, died prematurely in the prime of life. Thus, though in 1870 England was remarkably strong, later on she was remarkably weak in economists of mark; and therefore he did not think they were to blame for not having started this movement long ago. Happily, however, in 1890 we had a large number of very able young men at Oxford, Cambridge, and elsewhere, who were at the age at which they might be expected to write papers suitable for a journal. Thus, while others, like Mr. Palgrave and Professor Foxwell, had long taken a more cheery view of the situation, even he now felt that the time had come for the movement which they were beginning, and he no longer doubted whether it would be possible to maintain a journal at a high level of excellence. Had the journal been started a little time ago the announcement that the Oxford University branch of the Christian Union was going to bring out an Economic Review would have caused them some dismay. But, as things now were, he thought they were strong enough to support both journals. The Review was started for the purpose of dealing with problems in which ethical and religious questions took the first place, but which had a certain kernel of economic difficulty in the background. But there was room for that and for their own journal; and he hoped the two would supplement and strengthen one another. He was glad that Mr. Phelps, the Editor of the Review, was among them that afternoon. He had said that he had received promises of assistance from almost every economist. Besides that, he had received a great number of suggestions from persons who were not economists, some of which expressed the hope that the proposed Association would 'exert a wholesome influence.' That was the one thing which he hoped they would not set themselves to do. Their desire was not to 'exert a wholesome influence' in the sense of setting up a standard of orthodoxy, to which all contributors had to conform; economics was a science, and an 'orthodox science' was a contradiction in terms. Science could be true or false, but could not be orthodox; and the best way to find out what was true was to welcome the criticisms of all people who knew what they were talking about. In that way indeed he did hope they would exercise a wholesome influence on the character of economic discussion. In the past, time had been wasted in controversies which ought never to have come into existence—controversies based upon a perversion of the words of some writer, the critic interpreting them in the most foolish sense possible, and then writing long articles to prove that they were absurd when thus misinterpreted. All sciences in their early youth had been pestered by this sort of controversy, though economics had suffered more than others. The one influence which he hoped they would exercise would be that they would start from an absolutely catholic basis, and include every school of economists which was doing genuine work. He trusted that those who should control this journal would insist that all who wrote in criticism of others should take the writings of those others in the best possible sense, and in that way all schools might work amicably together, interpreting each other in the fairest and most generous manner; acting on that principle they would make sound progress. They might also extend the area of their work to the republication of old treatises and the translation of the best foreign works. A more difficult question was whether they should undertake the holding of discussions; and on that they had not come to a conclusion. But, whether they did or not, they had a great work before them in securing that catholicity of which their chairman was so admirable an example. He was a man who combined the highest business knowledge with the highest economic training. Working in this spirit, he hoped they would be able to promote economic knowledge by fair and frank discussions, while avoiding that waste of effort in bitter and ungenerous controversy which had long impeded progress.

Mr. Giffen, in seconding the resolution, had little to add to what had been so well said by Professor Marshall as to the formation of an economic association, primarily with the purpose of establishing a journal. All would be agreed that in respect of monthly or quarterly journals devoted to economic and economico-statistical subjects this country was rather behindhand. Our business journals were more numerous, and of a more excellent quality than those of other countries. But we were deficient in papers of the class of the Journal des Economistes in France or the Quarterly Journal of Economics in the United States. In the United. States there were two journals of high character belonging to the class of which he was speaking. But in this country we had no journal especially devoted to economical science as such. The Statistical Society's Journal and the Journal of the Bankers' Institute now and then took up questions of this kind, and the Bankers' Magazine occasionally had special articles bearing on the subjects in which they were interested. But there was no special journal for dealing with such topics. It was desirable that a medium should be afforded for dealing with the science in a technical manner, which was quite unsuitable for the general magazines, and with a view to establish such a medium he heartily supported this resolution.

Mr. Goschen rose to support this resolution, which had been so eloquently moved by Professor Marshall and seconded by Mr. Giffen. Mr. Marshall had dwelt on the necessity of bringing economists together, and had referred to the sad loss which economic science had sustained in the death of distinguished men. Mr. Giffen had compared this country with others in respect of journals of the class they were dealing with. In the few remarks he should make he would start from another point of view—the common diffusion of economic knowledge in the interest of the country at large, and quite apart from the more scientific desires and aspirations of economists themselves. (Cheers.) Warned by Professor Marshall, he would try to keep away from any question of 'wholesome influence.' At the same time, he could not but think, having great confidence in the science, that its further study would lead to the diffusion of truths which appeared to him to be extremely necessary to the happiness and prosperity of the nation. As the foundation of such a society as this he would place the desirability of dealing with that general reconstruction of economic ideas and theories which, if he was not mistaken, had been going on during the last fifteen years. Mr. Marshall had been kind enough to speak of him as an economist. But he was bound to say that he considered himself only an amateur. He had only been able to follow to a slight extent the works which had proceeded from the pens of distinguished men. But he had greatly at heart the diffusion of all economic truth, especially at a time when every economic truth was assailed in various forms. There was scarcely a department of the science where it was not necessary to look to the very foundations of their doctrines, because these very foundations were attacked in so many quarters. It was impossible for any economist to look for the acceptance of certain axioms, for in these days those very axioms were disputed by those who derided economists. In fact, it seemed to be a daring undertaking to profess themselves economists, because there was a general idea that economists had finished their proper work in the education of the nation. It was said they had given arid food instead of generous food, and that a great portion of our society had been built upon economic doctrines which ought to be reviewed in a more modern spirit. Now, he was for the simple diffusion of truth, and he was entirely in favour of a journal of this kind to receive contributions from every school of economists. He had the greatest possible confidence that economic truths, when fairly examined, would show themselves as capable of demonstration as the truths of any other science to which men devoted their attention. The establishment of a journal of this kind would be a means not only of concentrating in one available form the views of many economists, but would also form such an interesting literary work as to command the attention of those who were not economists, but to whom the demonstration of certain doctrines of the science would be of considerable advantage. He saw in certain quarters men who called themselves political economists, but who had not the slightest idea what economics were. He had been warned by Professor Marshall against saying that there was anything orthodox in any school of economics. But economists were entitled to say that there were—he would not call them schools, because they could not claim that title at all—but certain groups of men who seemed to disbelieve in the possibility of any economic science whatever. There never was a time in the history of our country when it was more necessary that the truths of this science should be studied with boldness and single-mindedness; and he had no hesitation in saying that economic truth might be made to include all that was generous and ethical, and to command not only the intellects and the heads of men, but their hearts also. It might be true that the older economists paid too much attention to certain sides of human nature—that was and always had been his own strong opinion. That might be the reason why certain schools of economists had lost a large portion of that public confidence which at one time they commanded. He felt they all had their work cut out for them, not only in examining all the new problems which came before them in so many new and various shapes, but in defining some of the elementary truths of the science, and in showing that they were not in the slightest degree incompatible with the progress which the country had made in so many different directions. He was afraid he might be treading on delicate ground if he were to indicate the various directions in which he thought that the fortifications of economic truths were assailed. There were the relations of capital and labour—currency questions—the great controversies with respect to the functions of the State. It seemed to him that none of the great problems which were occupying the national mind could be foreign to the studies of the economist, who would be doing a great service if, standing as he did outside the political atmosphere, which might in so many cases warp the judgment, he examined all these great questions and concentrated as much light as possible upon them—light which should not be dimmed in any way by the prejudices of any particular school. He should like to see this new journal a model of all that was impartial, and that, as Mr. Marshall had suggested, scope should be given for the expression of all economical views, and that it should be made the receptacle of all worthy intellectual efforts by men who had devoted themselves to what he believed to be as noble and useful a science as any to which men had given their attention.

Mr. Hyde Clarke said that, as he understood Professor Marshall, it was proposed to postpone, perhaps for an indefinite period, another subject referred to in the circular. He would ask Professor Marshall how far the close of the first resolution was calculated to postpone that further action in the way of discussions to which reference had been made.

Professor Marshall said the question as to the desirability of holding meetings for discussion had been long and frequently debated in private. As he had just said, the question whether they should ultimately hold discussions had been left undecided. But they had almost unanimously come to the conclusion that it would be better not to hold them at present. For such discussions, unless conducted by a very strong Association, might do harm: they might be attended chiefly by people whose time was not very valuable. And, partly because many of their members lived at very great distances from London, they thought it unwise to start public discussions, at all events, until their strength was thoroughly well consolidated. Opportunities for discussion were given by the British Association and the Statistical Society. The Economic Club also was already doing, in a quiet way, the kind of work which could be done by means of meetings.

Mr. Howell said what was wanted was the opportunity of having all sides of economical questions threshed out; and he hoped the time would soon come when it would be possible to hold discussions for this purpose.

After some remarks from Mr. Hill,

The Chairman said that he should be glad if by and by discussions could be held such as they had in the Statistical Society; but for the present it would be wiser if they limited themselves to the foundation of a journal.

The resolution was carried unanimously.

Mr. Courtney proposed the second resolution:—'That any person who desires to further the aims of the Association, and is approved by the Council, be admitted to membership; and that the annual subscription be fixed for the present at one guinea.' He said that the resolution was of a very simple and direct character, and did not require any words either of explanation or advocacy. But there were two or three words in it which apparently were not quite consistent with the catholicity which Professor Marshall had rightly demanded as the prime characteristic of the association. Persons were required not only to desire to further the aims of the Association, but to be approved by the council before they could be admitted to membership. Probably some gentleman present would like to have these words omitted. He had some doubt himself whether they were of any avail, and should not object to their omission. But there must be some limitation, and it was necessary occasionally to exercise a little authority if they were going to conduct their business in a satisfactory manner. There were some things which must be taken to be finally fixed, and just as a mathematical journal would exclude contributions which affected to square the circle, so in the science with which they were then concerned there were some propositions for which they would scarcely be able to find room. They might, for example, discuss whether gold alone, or silver alone, or an amalgam of both should be the basis of our currency; but if a gentleman suggested that an unlimited supply of paper would cover all the difficulties of the world, Professor Marshall would say that there must be authority somewhere, and that some opinions must be excluded. There was a sense in which, notwithstanding what Mr. Marshall had said, he hoped the Association would exercise a wholesome influence. If a person started in life with the intention of exercising a wholesome influence he would be a horrid creature. But if a man did not exercise a wholesome influence he would be a failure. Without of set purpose and determination attempting to exercise a wholesome influence, he trusted that the Association would really do so, not so much by laying down certain canons of doctrine as by showing how in a strenuous way to deal with political problems. If it gave examples of really hard thinking, it must lead persons to some conclusions which might or might not be right, but which would impress those who read their contribution with the conviction that there was a right and a wrong way of working at political problems. He believed that by the careful analysis of such problems a synthesis might be found, though it might not be susceptible of expression in a complete formula. He looked to this Association and the journal which they hoped to found as calculated to lead to a right method of study and to discourage by its example the slipshod treatment of these questions which was found too often both in the orthodox and unorthodox political economist.

Professor Sidgwick would only add a few words. He entirely agreed with what Mr. Courtney had said, and he hoped that the Association would be as unexclusive as it could be consistently with its scientific aims. But he thought it was quite desirable that a reserve power should be placed in the hands of the council to reject any obviously objectionable applicant. With regard to the second part of the resolution, he might say that he considered the guinea subscription an essential part of the scheme. If the association was sufficiently comprehensive the guinea subscription would offer the financial basis which they needed. At the outset some time would necessarily elapse before they could carry on the journal remuneratively. He said at the outset, because they all hoped it would ultimately be self-supporting.

Professor Edgeworth defended the almost indiscriminate admission of members which was proposed, on the ground that it was impossible to find any satisfactory test of orthodoxy in economic doctrine. If it were attempted to apply any such test, if some were to be excluded because they appeared unsound to others, he feared that the list of members would be very small—not much larger than the number of the elect according to David Deans.

Professor Foxwell then moved the following resolution, 'That those present constitute themselves members of the Association, and that a Committee be now appointed to draft rules and to submit them to a meeting of the members to be called as soon as may be practicble, members of this Committee to be members of the first Council of the Association, ad to have power to add to their number, future appointments to the Council to be made by the Association in General Meeting.' He took this opportunity of mentioning that they had a great number of letters of sympathy with the objects of the Association. Among those who had thus written were Lord Derby, Lord Brainwell, Lord Reay, Sir Thomas Farrer, Sir G. Baden-Powell, Sir Lowthian Bell, Sir Reginald Welby, Professors Bryce, Geddes, Munro, Nicholson, and Croom Robertson, Mr. Burt, M.P., Mr. Burnett, and Mr. Arthur Crump. From these letters he read the following extracts:—

From Lord Derby:—'I do not know whether it will be in my power to attend the meeting which you propose to hold on Nov. 20; but I entirely agree in your proposal to establish an English Economic Association.'

From Lord Brimwell:—'I think it would be a good thing to have such a Society as you suggest. As to the Journal, that also would be a good thing, if sucessful. It must do good, could do no harm, barring questions of ₤ s.d. I wish I could be present at the meeting on Thursday to show my goodwill.'

From Sir Thomas Fatter:—'I am not sure whether I shall be able to attend your meeting on the 20th November, but, if I could, I should heartily support the proposal for a Journal containing valuable papers on Economical subjects. It is rather discreditable and very inconvenient that we have no such Journal now, and are forced to hunt for useful papers through a variety of miscellaneous publications. The question of meetings for discussion is more doubtful. I should prefer myself to begin with a good and impartial editor, strong enough to reject rubbish; to accept papers with different views; and to prevent the Journal from being the organ of any particular school, or the cockpit of particular political controversies.'

From Sir George Baden-Powell:—'I think the need of an Economic Journal on the lines sketched is not to be denied. I am well aware that economic treatises are on the one hand often not statistical enough for the Statistical Journal, and on the other, not popular enough for a review or magazine.'

From Professor J. S. Nicholson:— 'I need hardly say that I wish the undertaking all success, and that I shall be glad to do all in my power to further its aims. I have been much struck lately in looking over a number of old papers of mine, some in MS. and some privately printed, with the need for some quasi-technical Journal, and I am sure that every one working at political econOany must often have felt the same want. If then the association does no more than provide an organized market for the exchange of ideas it will perform a good service, and if, in the course of time, it also serves to introduce to one another the persons in whom the ideas originate, it will be so much the better. What a deal of controversy might have been spared by a little personal contact!'

For himself, he (Professor Foxwell) had long been interested in the formation of such an Association as was now proposed; and the communications he had received on the subject during the last ten years had satisfied him that the demand for an Economic Society was widespread and increasing. It would be admitted that the present time was a critical one from the economic point of view; and that it was just now extremely important that economic opinion should be vigorously expressed, and duly influential in practical politics. The position and authority of economic science in England was clearly not now what it was in 1846. The generation which had elapsed since the triumph of free trade had certainly seen a remarkable development of economics; but for that very reason economic opinion had lost something of its former unanimity and confidence, and had failed to impress itself so forcibly on men of affairs. With originality, we had had eccentricity. The importance of new points of view had been exaggerated; and the great body of common doctrine, the central scientific tradition, had been relatively ignored. Hence an appearance of confusion and discord, which he thought most unfortunate in its effects, and not warranted by the actual state of cultivated economic opinion. The formation of this Association would, he believed, do something to correct this eccentricity and give strength to the economic Centre. It might serve, too, to concentrate and focus the opinion of economists, and to provide a means of ascertaining it, and of bringing its influence to bear upon the discussion of measures in which important economic considerations were involved. In this and other ways it might be hoped that it would do something to bridge over the separation between the theorists and the men of affairs. In the time of Ricardo and McCulloch the economists were perhaps too much immersed in current business and politics. At the present time the danger lay in the opposite direction. Isolation was bad for both sides. The theorist was apt to become academic in the bad sense of that word, even pedantic: the man of affairs was apt to be shortsighted in his action, and deficient in imaginaton and breadth of of view. It was the earnest hope of those who had promoted this Association that it mght afford a common meeting-ground for the representatives of theory and practice, and tend at the same time to the development of the science, and to the increase of its influence on social progress and reform. The names of those who wished to join might be sent to Mr. T. H. Elliott, at the Local Government Board, to Mr. L. L. Price, Oriel College, Oxford, or to himself, at St. John's College, Cambridge.

Mr. Martin seconded the resolution, which was carried.

Mr. Inglis Palgrave moved and Mr. T. H. Elliott seconded the last resolution, nominating the members of the committee.

The following gentlemen were then nominated:—

Mr. A.H.D. Acland, Professor Bastable, Mr. James Bonar, Mr. Charles Booth, Mr. John Burnett, Mr. Thomas Burt, Professor Edward Caird, Mr. Leonard Courthey, the Rev. Dr. Cunningham, Professor Edgeworth, Mr. T.H. Elliott, Sir Thomas Farrer, Professor Foxwell, Mr. Robert Giffen, Mr. E.C.K. Gonner, Mr. G.J. Goschen, Mr. George Howell, Professor Ingram, Mr. J.N. Keynes, Sir John Lubbock, Professor Marshall, Mr. J.B. Martin, Professor Munro, Professor Nicholson, Mr. Inglis Palgrave, Mr. L.L. Price, Rev. L.R. Phelps, Sir Rawson Rawson, Mr. Frederick Seebohm, Professor Sidgwick, Mr. H. Llewellyn Smith, and the Rev. Philip Wicksteed.

Mr. G. Bernard Shaw, whilst fully agreeing with all that their chairman, Mr. Goschen, had said that evening, suggested, with all respect to Mr. Goschen, that the head of the Association should not be a gentleman who was identified with any political party in the State.

The Chairman and Professor Marshall both rose, but Mr. Goschen gave way to

Professor Marshall, who asked to be allowed to intervene. He was not a political supporter of their chairman, but he was sure he was expressing the general opinion when he said that it would be impossible to find any more fair and impartial man to be at their head than the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Chairman said that he thought there was considerable force in what Mr. Shaw had said. He would propose that his nomination should not be decided upon at this meeting, but should be deferred to another meeting. It would probably be better if a political economist were chosen who had no avowed political views. He hoped, therefore, that the matter would be left open.

Professor Marshall proposed, and it was agreed, that the matter should, immediately after the close of the meeting, be considered by the council.

The Rev. R.L. Phelps, in proposing a vote of thanks to Mr. Goschen for taking the chair at this meeting, said that they all knew how important it was to the success of an undertaking such as that which they were starting, that it should be supported in its early stages by a man of Mr. Goschen's distinction as an economist, as a financier, and as a statesman. He thought he might venture to say that Mr. Goschen's conduct in the chair that day gave no small warrant of the courteous ability with which he might be trusted to direct the affairs of the Association in the future.

The vote of thanks being unanimously carried, the proceedings closed with votes of thanks to the President of University College for allowing them the use of the hall.