Saturday, February 28, 2009

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873 A.D.)


By Richard E. Noble

John Stuart Mill was raised by his father James to be a genius. James believed that genius was the product of learning and training. James's theory seems to have done well with John, but I have never heard or read of much with regards to the rest of the family.
James had a good job working for the British East India Tea Company. John followed in his dad's footsteps and worked for the same monopoly for thirty-five years.
John had two problems and one may have been the cause of the other. Tuberculosis was one.
His father, grandfather, grandmother, brother, Henry, and lifetime companion Harriet Taylor all succumbed to tuberculosis. His brother George committed suicide rather than wait for the ravages of TB to kick in.
John's other problem was depression.
John Stuart met the love of his life when he was about twenty-four years old, unfortunately she was already married. But regardless they became lifelong companions, friends, and intellectual collaborators from that time forward. Their relationship became the talk of the town and most people were very skeptical of the couples’ claims that their attraction was purely platonic. Most biographers agree that even though John and Harriet lived together, during her husband's lifetime, and then married after his death, John and Harriet were not involved sexually.
After their marriage she was sick and bedridden.
When Harriet died John was heartbroken. He turned her grave into a shrine and moved to where it was nearly a part of his backyard. There is absolutely no doubt that John loved Harriet.
John wrote many books and sold a bunch. He was a famous and wealthy philosophical and political writer of his day. He was a champion of many unconventional things: the equal rights and equal status of women, the protection of the rights of the minority, the value of individualism, even to the point of eccentricity.
He had some interesting ideas in economics also. He suggested in his economic writing that even if it is accepted that the laws of supply and demand control and dominate in the world of production, distribution was another matter entirely. In other words, in earning money it may be true that one is subject to hard and fast rules, but when it comes to spending it, one can do whatever he pleases.
This may not seem to be a very big idea but it threw the economic world for a loop. Men like Malthus, Ricardo, Adam Smith and Karl Marx were making a lot of dire predictions or prophesies based on the inevitability of economic laws. The idea was that economics was a physical science. Supply and demand and other theories were like the laws of gravity and must be obeyed.
Mill's notion put the world of economics back into the hands of people. People and governments could spend their money in any manner that pleased them. There may be rules that apply to earning money but spending it was discretionary. Money could be given to the poor, used to feed the sick, spent on public education or to balance inadequacy in the society. This was replacing inevitability and determinism with choice and freedom. Men and governments were not bound by dismal rules but free to make choices.
This idea got little support at the time and the world instead followed Malthus, Recardo and Marx.