Liberty Matters

J S Mill Returns Political Economy to its Smithian Roots

Professor Taylor writes that “it is no coincidence” that Plato was James Mill’s favorite philosopher; “when poured into the mold of Philosophic Radicalism” utilitarianism, he suggests, diverged from Professor Ball’s “moral and political philosophy of the Common Man” to something much less democratic and more aristocratic. I would to this add that perhaps Bentham and the older Mill represent a divergence in this respect from Adam Smith before them and John Stuart Mill afterwards. Perhaps the best passage from Smith that touches on this question -- and on the question of “expert advice” by the rulers generally -- is this passage on the Man of System:
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit, and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it: he seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board; he does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. [135]
Professor Ball writes that the younger Mill turned sharply against Auguste Comte.  I agree.  Notwithstanding my comments about J. S. Mill on education in my posts above, I would suggest that his rejection of Comte is evidence that the younger Mill rejected his father’s penchant for system. 
The very first and fundamental principle of the whole system, that government and the social union exist for the purpose of concentrating and directing all the forces of society to some one end. [Comte] cannot mean that government should exist for more than one purpose, or that this one purpose should be the direction of the united force of society to more than one end. What a foundation for a system of political science this is! Government exists for all purposes whatever that are for man’s good: and the highest & most important of these purposes is, the improvement of man himself as a moral and intelligent being, which is an end not included in M. Comte’s category at all. The united forces of society never were, never can be directed to one single end, nor is there, so far as I can perceive, any reason for desiring that they should. Men do not come into the world to fulfil one single end, and there is no single end which if fulfilled even in the most complete manner would make them happy.[136]
Readers familiar with the writings of F. A. Hayek will recognize a similarity to Hayek’s case about the impossibility of establishing unitary goals for society. [137]
Professor Farrant remarks on the formal equivalence of the Golden Rule and the Greatest Happiness Principle.  It is worth perhaps emphasizing that this espoused equivalence was jettisoned by economists late in the century. With the advent of the notion of cardinal – measurable – utility and the “recognition” that people (groups) possessed varying degrees of enjoyment of pleasures, came a formal recognition that total net social utility, as the sum of net utility across all individuals in the maximand, might increase if those individuals who belonged to low pleasure enjoyment and low productivity groups were removed from the maximand.[138]  “Pending a scientific hedonometry,” Edgeworth mused, the principle “Every man, and every woman, to count for one” should be very cautiously applied.” (ibid., p. 81). I would again remind us all that herein lies a danger of thinking and theorizing in terms of “groups”:  If we are not to count equally, some must count more than others.  Historically, the demise of classical political economics was associated with the rise of hierarchy within economic analysis. Hence, my concern with faction and my strong sense that one solution to Smith’s man-of-system problem is to constrain the person of system to a system of impartiality.
[135.] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments; or, An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves. To which is added, A Dissertation on the Origins of Languages. New Edition. With a biographical and critical Memoir of the Author, by Dugald Stewart (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853). </titles/2620#Smith_1648_590>.
[136.] John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XII – The Earlier Letters of John Stuart Mill 1812-1848 Part I, ed. Francis E. Mineka, Introduction by F.A. Hayek (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963). Letter 27. To Gustave d'Eichthal (London 8th October 1829) <http://oll.libertyfu/titles/>.
[137.] F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Texts and Documents—The Definitive Edition, volume II of The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, edited by Bruce J. Caldwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 100-11.
[138.] F. Y. Edgeworth, Mathematical Psychics (London: C. Keegan Paul, 1881), pp. 70-81.