The principles of political economy

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Issues dealt with in ‘The Principles of Political Economy’ – John Stuart Mill

“If the caliber of writers is to be judged by their effect on policy, Mill must rank high. As logician, economist and political philosopher he was regarded as a prophet in his own age.”- John Bowle


John Stuart Mill was an ardent campaigner of individual freedom, and alleged that the government had no right to interfere the private lives of its populace. Mill advocated the concept of undesirable freedom, which is in effect an absence of impairments or coercion to realize the objective of liberty. Mill debates that the government must always confine itself to carrying out only the essential functions of governance. He recommends that a government should be chiefly conscious of and reprimand and stop specific civilians’ behaviour as it destructively affects others. Mill’s eventual proclamation is that governments must implement a ‘laissez-faire social policy’, by which they would avoid intrusion in the routinely workings of the citizens, and they would be at liberty to make choices without hindrance. Mill thought that this freedom would allow individuals to chase their welfares with the greatest utility.

The Validation of Capitalism

In the Principles of Political Economy, Mill specified that the organization of private property was based fundamentally on the person's right to limited control over his produced portions or given to him by a fair contract. Differentiating between land and other kinds of property, he opined that the latter was warranted when it was founded on the right of a man to own what he has produced. Property thus earned could be disposed of at the owner’s will. Mill also claimed that the establishment of private property, i.e., capitalism, be grounded on labour, and that "every vindication of it that will bear the light" presumed that the quantity possessed would be proportional to effort.

Mill’s justification of capitalist economic establishments belongs to the liberal lineage. Mill observed that the application of the utilitarian principle is crucial to demonstrate that any form of property in land was to be allowed, would result in maximum public benefit. Subsequently the proprietorship of capital, not land, is the essential element in an industrialized society. It is significant to note that his methodology was radical in form. Instead of launching his enquiry with the liberal supposition that an individual has the right to what he has produced, Mill contended that in the case of the possession of land, the welfare of the masses (together with their right not to be subject to negligent power) must be the benchmark. It is indeed this sort of vital assessment that he did not apply to the proprietorship of capital.

Class Consciousness and Class Conflict

Mills believed that the distribution of political power, i.e., law-making authority or government is predominantly a result of a-political social associations. He regarded the economic structure of a society and its affiliated social affairs as the most significant influence defining political stimulus.

The section on the forthcoming of labouring classes in the Principles of Political Economy depicts the class status quo of existing Britain, where the workers were conscious of themselves as a class and also supposed that their interests contradicted those of the capitalist class. Mill proposed that the poor, principally in the villages and towns, would soon stop to show reverence to the ethical and religious sentiments of the ‘higher classes’. Economic relations between the two classes were so bad that "the rich regard the poor as, by a kind of natural law, their servants and dependents, the rich in their turn are regarded as a mere prey and pasture for the poor." Mill adjudicated that there was a complete lack of respect for justice in the associations between the two classes. Class partitions fashioned individuals who were ethical and compassionate when participants of their own class were concerned, but insensitive or aggressive other class was involved. The more severe a class construction, the more probable was conflicting and incompatible ethical conduct. Each may have penetrating compassions with his own class where the diverse classes of manhood are separated by treacherous obstacles, more powerful than it is almost conceivable to have with men in all-purpose; but those who are underneath him in form are so dissimilar than himself, that he barely deliberates them as humans; and if they are obstinate and upsetting, will be incompetent to feel for them even that kind-hearted attention which he experiences for his more submissive domestic cattle. Mill believed that the demands the industrial labourers were making out-dated all other political matters of the time.

Mill evidently attributed that the evolution of marketable capitalism into industrial capitalism had created a new class. This class, the industrial workers, had their own unions and associations. Mill pronounced the profound self-conscious fight between the two classes over the distribution of the profits of capitalism, and observed that at definite times the struggle was with respect to not merely the dissemination of profits, but the enquiry of the preservation of capitalism as an economic and social system. Mill did not accept as true that all political battle could be condensed to economic and class conflict, but he did trust that if a capitalist society was not distributed on the foundation of caste, language, or nationality then class dissection between workers and owners would institute the primary political circumstance. In this kind of society, economic struggle would yield political tensions in with respect to matters and the stakeholders. Apart from an impartial scarce on every single side, who would keep the mutual concern in opinion, the vast mainstream of both classes, Mill reasoned, would react to problems in terms of their class benefits.

India’s Political Economy and Mills

Mill’s interpretations on the paramount system of government for India—a dominant theme in the majority of his Indian literatures—have to be understood as a portion of his overall commencement of the character and determination of government and its functions in historical evolution as defined in his non-Indian works. Broadly, Mill apprehended that a structure of representative government, founded on universal suffrage and the utmost conceivable freedom of thought and expression, was the greatest system of government, as most beneficial to the continuance of human contentment and the expansion of values and intellect in personalities and civilization. There was no hesitation in his observance that such an arrangement was very well suitable to the requirements of the supplementary broadminded countries of Western Europe.

Mill’s all-purpose concepts about socio-economic development in India appear in assured respects to be harmonizing to his understandings about the unsurpassed way to accomplish academic and enlightening advancement in the sub-continent. They are not as fully advanced or unrelenting as his educational guidelines and, indeed, they have to be deduced from numerous of his transitory wide-ranging interpretations of British Indian land-revenue rule, mainly those confined in theMemorandum of the Improvements in the Administration of Indiaand thePrinciples of Political Economy’. Parenthetically, the explanations why Mill’s philosophies about economic and social improvement transpire within his distributed words about Indian revenue policy have to do with the fundamental position of the matter—particularly of clearance policy—in the economy of nineteenth-century BritishIndia. Upon this policy much else be governed by, together with the pecuniary capitals available to the government, the opulence of the rural economy, and legal rights of landowners and agriculturists.

Fundamentally, Mill supposed that India’s economic and social progress was substantively influenced by upon government sustenance for theryots(farmers) and thepanchayats(village assemblies). He consequently sanctioned both the previousryotwaricommunities in Madras and Bombay and the later societies with thepanchayatsof the North-Western Provinces and Punjab. He similarly disputed for the consolidation of the registered rights of theryotsin Bengal and Oudh over and against thezamindarsand talukdars,whom he viewed as non-productive landlord classes.

Somalia’s Political Economy

Mill’s viewed that the government’s role should be minimalistic and should thus not intervene in the daily functioning of its people. But, as Adam Smith too asserts, the government should not refrain from its duty of safeguarding the populace and penalising the defaulters of law. Yet, I believe that the government’s roles and functions are deeply inter-related, as any organization. The governing authority cannot simply, according to the capitalist convenience, indulge in a specific function and abstain from the other. Hence, I propose that the government must definitely perform a significant role in the market systems. The devastating condition of Somalia is a result of state-less economy, regressively dominated by polarised market structures.

Somalia is traditionally a pastoralist economy founded on the barter system between herds-men and minor farmers. 50% of the population accounted for the pastoralists. Until 1983, 80% of export earnings were attributed to livestock. Somalia remained self-sufficient in food until 1970s despite recurrent droughts. Figure 10 (Appendix) depicts the sectorial contribution.

Intervention by the IMF and World Bank in the early 1980s resulted in intensifying the crunch of Somali agronomy. The SSAP destabilised the delicate relationship between the nomadic economy and the inactive economy i.e. between pastoralists and minor agriculturalists characterised by monetary functions in addition to traditional barter. An extremely strict propaganda was enforced on the government mainly to discharge the coffers necessary to facilitate Somalia’s debt with the Paris club. In reality, a great portion of the external debt was detained by the Washington-based financial establishments.

  • Economic Degradation of the State

The so-called benevolent agenda of the IMF-World Bank had run the Somali economy into a malicious cycle. The failure in foreign exchange remunerations from deteriorating livestock exports and remittances distressed on the balance of payments and public funds that lead to the failure of government policies. Agriculturalists were exiled because of dumping of the cheap US grains on the local market along with the rising costs of cultivation inputs. The insolvency of the urban populace also resulted in shrivelling of food intake patterns. Consequently, state funding in the irrigated farm-lands was stationary and output in the farms degenerated. The latter were to be shut down or denationalized under World Bank’s regulation.

Famines in the era of globalization are man-made, although external climatic elements trigger a famine and heighten the negative influence of drought. They are a consequence of a global over-supply which underestimates food security and terminates national food agriculture and not a result of shortage of food supply. This oversupply is eventually beneficial to the unproductivity of both production and consumption of indispensable foods and the poverty of agrarians and is therefore firmly structured and regulated by international agro-business. Furthermore, in the age of globalization, the SSAP endures a direct association to the progression of food crisis as it methodically weakens all kinds of economic activities, either urban or rural, which do not oblige the comforts of the global markets.


Even though Mill alleged that certain development could be made in the capitalist framework, as has been shown above, the deduction to be made from his sociology, which he himself observed, is that such enhancement could not be considerable. Mills has asserted that the twentieth-century capitalist democracies, in spite of developments, have reserved the ethical insufficiencies as in the nineteenth century. In general, the choice is between the ‘modernizing’ or ‘innovative’ methodology initiated by Joseph Schumpeter and consequently acknowledged by many political scientists.

Nevertheless the considerable developments of the lifetime condition of the major populace in the preceding fifty years, twentieth-century capitalism comprises utmost of the severe ethical insufficiencies Mill connected with it in the nineteenth century. In particular there still are: (1) inadequate opportunity for the improvement and execution of human capabilities; (2) inconsistent political power seized by the middle class; (3) commercialized culture; and (4) economic class conflict. Two rationally consistent likelihoods are accessible to the modern-day democracy. Firstly to review the normative implication of democracy in such a way that is completely reliable with what essentially succeeds in the West and secondly to consent and debate for specific arrangement of representative socialism. To indicate the first attains academic reliability at the outlay of deserting the most significant ethical idea to have developed in the manufacturing era. To agree to the second advocates the requirement for sustained solicitous ethical criticism of the present and thoughtful pragmatic research concerned with the advancement of the impending.


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The literature includes: J.Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings: James Mills The History of British India and Orientalism, Clarendon Press, 1992); E.Stokes, The English Utilitarians and India, Clarendon Press, 1959);W.Thomas, The Philosophic Radicals, Clarendon Press, 1979), chapter 3; L.Zastoupil, John Stuart Mill and India, Stanford University Press, 1994.

For a detailed discussion of Sir WilliamJones’s viewon India, see Majeed, op cit, chapter 1. And for a brief examination of Mill’s disagreement with the orientalist praise of India, see Majeed, op cit, pp.143-4; Zastoupil, op cit, pp.12-13.

The most important defect of the British institutions is its legal system. Majeed correctly points out that in criticizing the Indian law and legal system, Mill was also criticizing the English one. See Majeed, op cit, p.131.