The Economics of Edwin Chadwick
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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.
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Chapter 6: Chadwick on Labor, Education, and the Business Cycle

Robert B. Ekelund Jr and Edward O. Price III


INTRODUCTION In 1950 R.A. Lewis analyzed Edwin Chadwick’s reaction to the railway laborer’s situation, writing that, ‘The episode exhibits his best qualities as a man and as a reformer – his sense of public duty, his courage, his contempt for the power of wealth, his sympathy for an exploited class’ (Lewis 1950: 107). While this is only partly correct, attributing as it does a strictly humanitarian motive to Chadwick, there can be little doubt of his deep and analytical concern for the nineteenth-century laborer.1 Nor can there be doubt as to the extent of Chadwick’s knowledge concerning the conditions of the wage classes, the importance of education and human capital, technology, and the impact of these on the business cycle. Chadwick’s long romance with the empirical led him to gather, first hand, information concerning many aspects of the living and working conditions of the English workforce – more than any observer up to his time. Chadwick’s Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842a) is sufficient evidence of the dimensions of his knowledge, as is his expertise on the labor conditions of railway workers (1846). Lewis’ article was an attempt to correct the record so far as Chadwick’s reputation on the wage classes was concerned. Historically, Chadwick’s image had been that of a repressor of the laboring population, an attitude that had developed principally from Chadwick’s work on the Poor Law Act of 1834 and the ensuing turmoil during his tenure as Secretary to the Poor Law...

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