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CHALMERS, Thomas.

On Political Economy, in Connexion with the Moral State and Moral Prospects of Society.

Published: Glasgow: Printed for William Collins [and 3 others in Edinburgh, 2 in Dublin, 3 in London], 1832

Stock code: 104255

Price: £350

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First edition, quickly reprinted and followed by a New York edition in the same year, of one of the key works of the Scottish social reformer Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847). “The crisis of 1831–2 surrounding the Reform Bill for the expansion of the parliamentary franchise aroused Chalmers’s fears for the condition of the country, and in 1832 he published On Political Economy, in Connexion with the Moral State and Moral Prospects of Society. The work opened on a note of urgency: the economy was unsettled by recurrent crises, the conditions for the labouring orders were deteriorating, the state was threatened with revolutionary violence. The cause of this unrest, he continued, would be found in the tendency of industrial society to press beyond the limits of its natural resources. His vision of society was gloomy, haunted by the Malthusian spectre of overpopulation. Population was pressing beyond the limits of agricultural production, driving down wages, and increasing the cost of poor relief. Industry tended to produce more goods than hard-pressed home consumers could afford, and underconsumption in the home markets resulted in a glut of capital and chronic economic instability. Although he was a free-trader Chalmers did not believe that overseas trade or the exchange of industrial products for foreign foodstuffs would bring lasting prosperity… It was a well-argued exposition, and in its economic aspects one which anticipated many of the ideas of the economist J. A. Hobson on underconsumption and capital glut. In its defence of a stable, largely self-sufficient society it also bore many similarities to Chalmers’s Inquiry of 1808. The work, however, was received with considerable disdain by leading political economists and Liberal politicians” (ODNB).

Octavo (213 x 130 mm). Contemporary calf, gilt banded spine, brown morocco label, single-line gilt border on spine, red speckled edges. Armorial bookplate of Baron Leigh (rather oxidised), probably the poet and literary patron Chandos Leigh (1791-1850), with some neat marginalia, possibly in his hand: “Chandos Leigh championed free trade and liberal policies” (ODNB). Spine darkened, gilt rubbed, chipped at head and tail, joints split (upper board holding on cords), a few scrapes to binding, touch of foxing to prelims.

Bibliography: Einaudi 1012 (listing the second edition); Goldsmiths' 27260.

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