Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 10: James Steuart [James Denham-Steuart] (1712–1780)
James Steuart’s main work, An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy of 1767, was the first full-length treatise on political economy in Britain. It attracted a fair amount of attention when it was first published but was overshadowed by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations which came out less than a decade later. Steuart was the son of a successful Edinburgh lawyer. After graduating from Edinburgh University he was called to the bar, but spent five years on a grand tour of the Continent before starting his legal career. While in Rome in 1739, however, he met the Stuart claimant to the British (that is, Scottish and English) throne, starting an entanglement which was to affect the rest of his life. He was openly involved with the Jacobite (Stuart) rising of 1745 and had to go into exile when the rising collapsed, living variously in France, Germany and the Low Countries. Back in Scotland from 1763, he still had to be very careful until 1771 when he was formally pardoned. His Principles was published in 1767 but had been mostly constructed in exile. This unusual background meant that he had little experience of conditions in England, the most successful economy of the day. Political economy, in Steuart’s view, exists to provide guidance to the “statesman”, his name for an idealized head of government. The aim of the statesman, and hence the aim of political economy, is “to provide food, other necessaries, and employment to every one of society” (Steuart 1767:...
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