Item 111 - Letter from Sir Louis Mallet to Henry Sidgwick

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Add. MS c/94/111


Letter from Sir Louis Mallet to Henry Sidgwick


  • 14 Jul 1887 (Creation)

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Believes that their points of view are so different that he doubts whether anything he could say would have any effect. Expresses his view by quoting Sir Henry Maine's Popular Government, beginning with a statement with regard to the two systems in existence by which material '"of human subsistence and comfort"' are produced. One is economic and industrial competition, and the other '"consists in the daily task...enforced by the prison and the scourge."' Maine maintained that one system had to be adopted in order that society not '"pass through penury to starvation."'

States that his remarks mainly apply to Sidgwick's two chapters on Distributive Justice and Economic Distribution. In relation to Distributive Justice, he 'cannot conceive any possible system which can promote it to an equal degree with that of "the free exchange of services" - with all its inevitable shortcomings.' Believes it to be unlikely that anyone would propose that Governments should be burdened with the task of dispensing distributive justice, on top of their other duties. Refers to an argument on page 514 of Sidgwick's work, in relation to the question of interest on capital. Refers also to the second chapter [Economic Distribution], on which, he claims, discussion is easier, because all questions of assumed rights and justice are discarded. Claims to found his view 'solely on grounds of expediency - i.e., the promotion of the well-being of society as a whole.' Disputes Sidgwick's statement that under the current system of partial economic competition, there is a growing inequality in the incomes of men. Refers to statistics compiled by [ ] and Atkinson, which demonstrate that in Great Britain and the United States 'there is constant progress towards greater equality.' This fact Mallet believes to be neither important nor desirable.

Proceeds to discuss the 'main question' treated in that chapter. Remarks on the absence of the 'international point of view, which was the central consideration of the Free Trade School' in the speculations of the 'present generation of economists.' Refers to the question of the nationalisation of the land, which, he claims, from a free trade point of view, 'cannot even be discussed'. Refers to the opinions of Mill and Maine on this question. On Sidgwick's speculation about capital, he remarks that if there were no field for private capital at home, [ ] would send it abroad.' Questions the likelihood of the success of 'any possible experiment in the direction of State conducted industiral and commercial enterprise'. Doubts that any government in a free country could devise any system of reward and penalties which would enable it to work. States that based on his experience of [Government Departments] he believes that nine out of ten men work in such a way that they do not contibute their fair share to society, and doubts whether the majority even do a day's full work.' Does not believe in government superintendence, nor in the efficiency of the Post Office or the Telegraph services. Thinks that if the latter two should be '[formed] on the principle of Competition for the field', the population would be 'better and cheaper served.' In his opinion there is no system except that of free exchange 'by which the equilibrium of supply and demand can be preserved without [ ].' Returns to the theme of the absence of the international view in the thinking of the current generation of economists 'beginning with Mill.' Refers to Sidgwick's remarks on this subject, which were contained in his paper that was discussed at the Political Econ[omy] Club a few days previously. Claims that the inevitable result of state subsidies would be national isolation. States that if the principle of free trade between nations is adopted, the disadvantages of such a move must also be accepted.

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101/111: draft or copy letter from Sidgwick to Mallet in reply to this letter, dated 25 July 1887.

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