Business Cycles in the Progressive Era and New Deal
Chapter 2: The moral economy in the nineteenth century: Bellamy versus Sumner
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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