An “Old Whig” in politics and student of the Austrian School in economics like me, would not be expected to like the economics of Mr J.S. Mill – his Labour Theory of Value (from his father James Mill and family friend David Ricardo), and his arrogant statement that the “theory of value is settled” (“Principles of Political Economy”) refusing to even mention that dissent existed – even British dissenters such as Richard Whately and Samuel Bailey are ignored (shoved down the Memory Hole), or his Ricardian view of land and rent – refuted some years after the death of Mr Mill, by Frank Fetter (who put the absurd idea of the “Land Question”, which led to Henry George and co, to bed).
However, it is not as a economist that Mr Mill is remembered (which is just as well – when one thinks of his ideas on worker coops or musings that the problems of “production” had been worked out, but not the problems of “distribution”).
Nor is it even as a general philosopher that he is remembered – so the fact that his attacks on Hamilton and so on are pushed by academics, but philosophical attacks upon Mr Mill himself (such as the defence of “self evident truths” by the head of what is now Princeton, James McCosh – 1811 to 1894) have been shoved down the Memory Hole, does not matter too much (other than to grumpy people like me). As for utilitarianism – well even J.S. Mill had problems with the idea that good and evil are just pleasure and pain (as his father James Mill and family friend Jeremy Bentham, the man who wanted 13 Departments of State to control virtually every aspect of human life, maintained) – as if one decided whether, for example, rape is good or evil by trying to measure the pain of the rape victim against the pleasure of the rapist or rapists (to confuse good and evil, right and wrong, with pleasure and pain is a crass “category mistake”).
Did J.S. Mill even believe in agency (free will) – the capacity for real moral choice? Or did he deny it – as David Hume seems to deny it (Hume may be just testing people), and Thomas Hobbes certainly did deny the existence of the human person. To Hobbes humans are just flesh robots and their “freedom” has no more moral content that the “freedom” of water after a dam has been blown up – there is no real moral choice (no agency) in Hobbes. Yet far from rejecting Thomas Hobbes with disgust and contempt as the Old Whigs had, the “Westminster Review” “Radicals” (James Mill and co) held up Hobbes, the arch defender of tyranny, as some sort of guide to be followed. How can one have political libertarianism, if one has rejected philosophical libertarianism – the very existence of human persons, agency (moral choice – real choice) itself? Of course one can NOT – but…….
It is as a political philosopher that Mr Mill is mainly remembered, not as an economist or general philosopher, – mostly for one short book “On Liberty”.
Stop obsessing over the supposed errors of John Stuart Mill in economics and in general philosophy, Paul Marks – behold the wonder that is “On Liberty”.
But is it really wonderful? Consider the following……
“Again trade is a social act. Whoever undertakes to sell any description of goods to the public does what affects the interest of other persons, and of society in general; and thus his conduct, in principle, comes within the jurisdiction of society”.
No it does not – and stop calling the state “society”, you son-of-a-bitch (and as your father was James Mill this vulgar language is close enough). It is bad enough that you also seem to think, like some admirer of Frederick the Great and other Prussians, that the term “the state” is a positive (something good) and not a negative one.
“the restraints in question in question [price controls or whatever] affect only that part of conduct which society [you are doing it again Mr Mill - I told you not to misuse language that way] is competent to restrain”.
Certainly Mr Mill admits in the same pages of “On Liberty” (pages 164-5 of the Penguin edition in front of me) that government interventions, such as price controls, do not achieve their objectives – but there is no problem, in PRINCIPLE, with using the threat of violence (the state) to get producers and traders to do what you want them to do, and to stop them doing peaceful things that you do not want them to do – “As the principle of individual liberty is not involved in the doctrine of free trade” (oh just jump in the nearest lake and drown yourself).
Even outright bans on things, such as booze, are only “infringements on the liberty of…… the buyer” NOT on “the producer or seller” – if one is Mr John Stuart Mill who does not appear to believe that “the producer or seller” has any rights at all. Because selling something is “other regarding”, but buying something is “self regarding” (and other drivel).
We even get old lines about how sellers will adulterate goods – as if losing REPUTATION is no harm in business, as if Adam Smith (and so on) had never written a word and it is in the interests of butchers (and so on) to poison their customers. Real “who protects the consumer?” rubbish – a question rightly mocked (along with “who protects the worker?”) in Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” (such questions are no better coming from a “great man” such as Mr Mill than they are coming from envy driven rabble rouser).
As for “public sanitation” and so on – only the state can provide anything (we are back to the world of Principles of Political Economy – where “everyone agrees” with what Mr Mill wants them to, because he shoves down the Memory Hole anyone who does not agree that local government should do X, Y, Z).
At least in this “On Liberty” we do not get Mr Mill’s wonderful idea that people who do not have the income to bring up a family should not be allowed to marry (as if forbidding people marrying will stop them breeding), but …….
But it is CRAP – the “harm principle”, as if anything that “affects the interests of other persons” is O.K. for state intervention (as long as the statists rig the economic argument in their favour) – crime is not about “harm” it is about aggression – violation.
If I charge lower prices or provide better quality goods (or both) than someone else , and he goes bankrupt and kills himself I have certainly “harmed” him (or her) – but that is NOT a crime.
The Common Law idea of crime is based on the nonaggression principle, not on a “harm” principle.
Otherwise we are into such absurdities as Anti Trust “law”.
In his “classic” judgement against ALCOA (the standard “boo-hiss” big business operation – this time in the aluminum trade) American Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand said the following……
It was not inevitable that it [ALCOA] should always anticipate increases in demand for ingot and be prepared to supply them. Nothing compelled it to keep doubling and redoubling its capacity before others entered the field. It insists that it never excluded competitors: but we can think of no more effective exclusion than progressively to embrace each new opportunity as it opened, and to face every newcomer with new capacity already geared into a great organisation, having the advantage of experience, trade connections and the elite of personal.
Now this evil (and “evil” is the correct word) judgement has been rightly attacked by many people – from Thomas Woods and Dominick Armentano in our own day, to the late Murray Rothbard (yes his political history is often terrible – but his economics and grasp of natural justice were sound), to Milton Friedman – and, most strongly of all, by the late Ayn Rand. It takes virtues (hard work and innovation) and pretends they are crimes – it shows a vision of “law” that is utterly devoid of any conception of natural justice (of the basic principles of jurisprudence in Common Law), any of the Founders of the United States (or the Old Whig tradition they came from) would have a taken a horsewhip to “Justice” Learned Hand. Edmund Burke would denounced not just the ignorance but also the sheer vileness (moral evil) of the man.
It also shows (as do so many other cases) that government regulation is NOT “for the benefit of big business” – as the “libertarian left” claim.
But how could Mr John Stuart Mill attack the judgement? All he could say is that “Justice Learned Hand” got his economics wrong. Businessmen have no rights according to Mr Mill – ordering them about with threats of violence does not violate natural justice (which he does not seem to believe even exists) – Dr Bonham’s case (of which I have written on this site before) of Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke would mean nothing to Mr Mill, and nor would the judgements of that classic Old Whig Chief Justice Sir John Holt.
To Mr J.S. Mill (as to Blackstone – but without the natural law writings of Blackstone) Parliament (or the American government – or any government) can do anything it likes in these sordid commercial matters, only the freedom of thinkers like Mr Mill matters – the freedom of “producers and traders” does not matter. Thus we see the rebirth of Plato’s children – the snob “intellectual” (the modern “liberal”) who despises the freedom of anyone who is not like them. Who denies that such things are “really” about liberty at all.
The late Ayn Rand was more right than wrong about Mr Mill and his “On Liberty”. And the lady was not complementary……