The Economics of Edwin Chadwick

The Economics of Edwin Chadwick

Incentives Matter

Robert B. Ekelund Jr and Edward O. Price III

The authors detail Sir Edwin Chadwick’s sophisticated conceptions of moral hazard, common pool problems, asymmetric information, and theory of competition, all of which differ starkly from those promulgated by Adam Smith and other classical economists. Also examined are Chadwick’s views on government versus market role in dealing with problems created by natural monopoly, and whether some or all market problems justify government regulation or alterations of property rights. The authors investigate Chadwick’s utilitarian approach to labor, business cycles, and economic growth, contrasting his modern view with those of his classical economic contemporaries.

Chapter 1: Who was Edwin Chadwick?

Robert B. Ekelund Jr and Edward O. Price III

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought, law and economics, law - academic, law and economics


INTRODUCTION Today a quick Internet Google search of the name Sir Edwin Chadwick (1800–1890) will reveal more than 600 000 entries, a degree of attention that would certainly compete with that paid to many modern Nobel laureates in economics. But the vast majority of economists – many directly connected with the history of the discipline – draw a blank when they hear the name. Who could this man be, living and writing over the high period of classical economics? More to the point, why would economists of the twenty-first century be interested in his massive body of nineteenth-century policy work? In his masterful and still unmatched biography of Chadwick, S.E. Finer makes the following observation: He was a bore, a really outstanding specimen of bore in an age when the species flourished. He was too keenly aware of his own merits; while on the other hand he had no patience with fools, and his definition of a fool was a very wide one, taking in as it did, nearly everyone who disagreed with him. With a wholesome suspicion of power wielded by others, he managed to combine a boundless confidence in the benefits of power in his own strong hands, and every scheme drawn up by Chadwick seemed to contain a provision at some point for giving more power to Edwin Chadwick . . . He stirred up a great deal of mud, and it is a tribute not a reproach that so much of it was thrown back at him by his critics....

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