Markets, Planning and the Moral Economy

Markets, Planning and the Moral Economy

Business Cycles in the Progressive Era and New Deal

Donald R. Stabile and Andrew F. Kozak

Markets, Planning and the Moral Economy examines the rise of the Progressive movement in the United States during the early decades of the 20th century, particularly the trend toward increased government intervention in the market system that culminated in the establishment of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programmes. The authors consult writings from politicians, business leaders, and economists of the time, using a variety of historical perspectives to illuminate the conflicting viewpoints that arose as the country struggled to recover from the worst economic downturn in its history.

Chapter 2: The moral economy in the nineteenth century: Bellamy versus Sumner

Donald R. Stabile and Andrew F. Kozak

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought


The idea of the moral economy existed in many forms throughout human history. As a result, its lineage is difficult to trace from any particular source. In the US during the last three decades of the nineteenth century, for example, there were a variety of political movements that placed government action and some form of socialism on the political agenda. To some extent, this penchant for socialist thinking and activist government came from many academics in the US studying in Europe. In Europe they learned socialist ideas that were more common on that continent due to the influence of thinkers such as Robert Owen, Pierre Saint-Simon and Karl Marx. Many academics studied in Germany where they saw first-hand the activist government of Otto von Bismarck and especially the social welfare programmes that Germany developed to take care of the poor. Given this readiness to attribute a European influence on US intellectuals, it is often overlooked that in the US there was a home-grown version of the moral economy set forth by Edward Bellamy. In this chapter we describe Bellamy’s vision of a cooperative commonwealth that he saw coming about in the US. That vision was influential among US intellectuals, for it gave them a model of the moral economy that, while rarely acknowledged, formed a background for thinking about the moral economy during the early decades of the twentieth century. We shall use Bellamy’s vision as our model of what we are calling the moral economy. His writings were very popular.

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