1st Edition

The Economic Thought of William Petty Exploring the Colonialist Roots of Economics

By Hugh Goodacre Copyright 2018
    262 Pages
    by Routledge

    262 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    William Petty (1623-1687), long recognised as a founding father of English political economy, was actively involved in the military-colonial administration of Ireland following its invasion by Oliver Cromwell, and to the end of his days continued to devise schemes for securing England’s continued domination of that country. It was in that context that he elaborated his economic ideas, which consequently reflect the world of military-bureaucratic officialdom, neo-feudalism and colonialism he served.

    This book shows that much of the theory and methodology in use within the economics discipline of today has its roots in the writings of Petty and his contemporaries, rather than in the supposedly universalistic and enlightened ideals of Adam Smith a century later. Many of the fundamental ideas of today’s development economics, for example, are shown to have been deployed by Petty explicitly for the purpose of furthering England’s colonialist objectives, while his pioneering writings on fiscal issues and national accounting theory were equally explicitly directed towards the raising of funds for England’s predatory colonial and commercial wars.

    This book argues that exploring the historical roots of economic ideas and methods in this way is an essential aspect of assessing their appropriateness and analytical power today, and that this is more relevant than ever. It will be of interest to advanced students and researchers in the history of economic thought, early modern economic history, development economics and economic geography.

    Preface, 1. William Petty: Biographical and Historical Background, 2. Petty and the Colonialist Roots of Development Economics, 3. Petty’s Economic Thought and the Fiscal-Military State, 4. The Spatial Economy from Petty to Krugman, 5. William Petty and colonialism: a selective review of some current debates, Postscript: William Petty and the colonialist roots of economics


    Hugh Goodacre is currently a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Westminster, and a Teaching Fellow at University College London. He was formerly a Senior Curator for Asia, Africa, Pacific Collections at the British Library, where he worked from 1972 to 1996, specialising in Arabic. His research project is to explore the influence of colonialist ideology on the economics discipline.

    "Hugh Goodacre’s excellent book...In its scrupulous engagement with several literatures and its powerful interpretation of Petty’s economic work, it points toward a more integrated view of Petty and of the place of economic ideas in the welter of seventeenth-century developments in which he had a role."

    Ted McCormick, History of Political Economy