Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 55: John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940)
Aptly self-described in his later years as an economic heretic, John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) made two substantial contributions to economic analysis, one major and one relatively minor. His major contribution was to revive interest in the underconsumption theory. His relatively minor contribution was as a critic of the marginal productivity theory of distribution. These contributions were initially unrelated, though later the distribution of income came to play an important part in Hobson’s exposition of the underconsumption theory. Hobson was “born – on 6 July 1858 – and bred in the middle of the middle class of a middle-sized Midland industrial town” (Hobson 1931: 13), to wit, Derby, where his father was the founder, joint proprietor and editor of The Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal. After proceeding to an open scholarship at Lincoln College, Oxford, and graduating in 1880, he was employed by schools in Faversham and Exeter, where he taught classics for seven years; during that time, in 1885, he married Florence Edgar, who hailed from New Jersey. In 1887 he abandoned school teaching in order to take up journalism, moving for that reason to West London. After this move he became a university extension lecturer, offering a course in political economy from 1888, and was thereafter a prolific writer on matters economic and societal. The best account of his life is to be found in Lee (1972). Hobson’s first contribution to economic analysis came with the publication in 1889 of The Physiology of Industry, of which the businessman A.F. Mummery (who...