Bentham’s Political Economy: ‘Happiness—enjoyment—not money, is or ought to be the ultimate object of the legislator’s care’
By Tim Causer, on 31 December 2019
On 16-17 December 2019 a knowledgeable and eager audience gathered over two days to hear leading scholars in the fields of Bentham Studies, Economics, Political Theory and History of ideas present the first fruits of their research into Bentham’s political economy, and in particular on the preliminary texts of the final three volumes recently made freely available online by the Bentham Project (please see the descriptions below for the relevant links). The conference began with Richard Whatmore (St Andrews) presenting the case that Bentham fitted his characterization of ‘end of Enlightenment’ philosophers. The subsequent lectures (from Marco Guidi (Pisa), Stephen Engelmann (University of Illinois at Chicago), and Annie Cot (Paris I), and papers (from Andy Dennis (City University), Michael Quinn (Bentham Project), Vincent-Emmanuel Mathon, Adrian Walsh (University of New England (Australia)), Benjamin Bourcier (Catholic University of Lille), Anthony Howe (University of East Anglia) and Michael Drolet (Worcester College Oxford) which followed maintained the combination between general theses and skilled textual exegesis established at the outset. The speakers were unanimous in their praise for the new volumes, and the general consensus, eloquently summed up by Annie Cot in her closing lecture, was that the new edition would provide a resource of inestimable value to researchers in the field.
Dr Michael Quinn
Overview of the Volumes.
In the mid-1780s Bentham drafted his first sustained discussions of political economy and public finance for ‘Projet Matière’. That discussion is now lost, but the corresponding marginal contents and three related appendices open the volume. The volume continues with Defence of Usury, first published 1787, which established some reputation for Bentham in political economy, and five appendices drafted in 1790 in preparation for the second edition. Next comes ‘Manual of Political Economy’, an introductory handbook which Bentham never finished, and the surviving text of which is supplemented by seven appendices. The final work is ‘A Protest against Law Taxes’, a trenchant critique of the taxation of legal proceedings, and the denial of justice to the poor, printed in 1793, published in 1795, and extended in 1816.
The works contained in this volume, ‘Supply without Burthen’ and ‘Proposals relative to divers modes of Supply’, were drafted by Bentham in 1794 during an intense period of activity in which, under the general heading ‘Πόροι’ (i.e. ‘Resources’), he set out systematically to review possible sources of public revenue. Bentham had long believed that the appropriation of a proportion of the estates of those dying without near relations offered a painless method of raising public revenue, and now developed the proposal in detail. At the end of 1795, prompted by Pitt’s introduction of a tax on collateral successions, Bentham published the précis of the work he had submitted to government, which opens the volume, followed by four Appendices of additional materials. By late September 1794, Bentham envisaged ‘Supply without Burthen’ as the first of a related series of proposals for generating public revenue, which he headed ‘Πόροι’. The remaining proposals ranged from further painless expedients, through taxation with compensatory benefit, to taxation pure and simple. Since Bentham viewed all these proposals as connected elements of a single generic enterprise, the fruits of his labours (excepting the proposal which he did publish, namely ‘Supply without Burthen’) are published together for the first time in the present volume as ‘Proposals relative to divers modes of Supply’. This work is followed by six Appendices which shed further light on Bentham’s approach to raising public revenue, including his first articulation of what would reappear five years later as his Annuity Note Scheme.
The writings in this volume were composed in 1798–9, when Bentham co-operated with the Magistrate Patrick Colquhoun in his efforts to reform policing. The volume is divided into two parts, reflecting the two Bills which Bentham drafted. Part I. Writings on Marine Police contains Bentham’s first draft of the ‘Thames Police Bill’ and four related works. Part II. Writings on the Police Bill, contains five works written in connection with what Bentham referred to indiscriminately as ‘Police Bill’ and ‘Police Revenue Bill’. Bentham’s police bill connects the prevention of crimes directly with the provision of a revenue to the state, and prompts him to reflect on the intimacy of the ‘alliance’ between police and finance. In his ‘Calendar of Delinquency’, he provides a worked example of the application of the principle of utility to the evaluation of policy, while his advocacy of a ‘Police Gazette’ reveals the extent to which he sought both to disseminate information and to mould opinion.
This volume opens with ‘Political Prospects, or What’s to be done?’ an unfinished pamphlet drafted in October 1798 which sought to allay public alarm over the suspension of convertibility by the Bank of England in February 1797. The volume continues with Bentham’s two letters ‘On the Stock-Note Plan’, Ambrose Weston’s proposal for increasing liquidity by securing paper instruments with existing government annuities, which prompted Bentham to develop his own Annuity Note scheme in 1799–1800. The third work in the volume, ‘Hints, respecting the mode of feeding the Old Sinking Fund in War-time’, drafted in July 1800 in the midst of efforts to complete the Annuity Note scheme, continues the focus on the National Debt. The centre-piece of the volume is formed by ‘Circulating Annuities’ itself, a work Bentham did not complete to his satisfaction before deciding rather to draft and print a précis thereof. The volume includes his surviving draft of the work, the précis or ‘Abstract’, and (probably) seven appendices containing related materials. The volume concludes with ‘Observations by Sir Fred. Morton Eden, (in form of a Letter) on the Annuity Note Plan .^.^. with Counter-Observations by the Author’, which Bentham wrote between late July and early August 1801.
N.B. The text of this volume is still being finalized, but will be made available via ucl.discovery as soon as is practically possible.
The volume will contain Bentham’s final reflections on the merits and drawbacks of paper money (‘Paper Mischief Exposed’ (1800-1), ‘The True Alarm’ (1801), ‘Discussion sur le papier monnaie à propos d’un ouvrage d’H. Thornton’ (1802), ‘Paper money for Spain’ (1819), and ‘Paper and Gold’ (1820): the last three being fragmentary discussions of the function and limits of paper promises), together with ‘Defence of a Maximum’ (1801), wherein Bentham advises government, in a dearth, to cap the price of corn, and ‘Method of an Institute of Political Economy’ (1800–1, 1804), his second attempt to summarize the field of political economy.