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2 - Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, Supply and Demand, and Middlemen

from Part II - Market Economies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2020

Gregory M. Collins
Affiliation:
Yale University, Connecticut
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Summary

Chapter 2 examines Burke’s fundamental beliefs on market economies. I first provide an outline of the agricultural economy in late eighteenth-century England in order to draw a specific historical context for Burke’s economic thought during that period. Then I use Thoughts and Details to explain his commentary on market liberty. I discuss Burke’s support for a free domestic grain trade; government restraint; supply and demand laws; and the competitive price system. For Burke, the internal grain market should be largely protected from state intrusion. The silent efficiency of supply and demand laws channeled provisions to communities without requiring the hand of government. Prices of goods should be determined by the market, not by magistrates, who lacked the knowledge of local market conditions necessary to establish equitable prices and create fair labor contracts. I also investigate Burke’s firm defense of middlemen in Thoughts and Details, and describe his efforts in 1772 to repeal long-standing statutes that had banned the middlemen trading activities of forestalling, regrating, and engrossing. According to Burke, middlemen played a crucial role in the provisions trade by helping promote the smooth distribution of goods and lower prices.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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