Sunday, June 12, 2016

Joseph Persky's "The Political Economy of Progress: John Stuart Mill and Modern Radicalism"

Joseph Persky is Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His work takes distributional questions as central to both history and current policy. His articles have appeared in a number of journals, including the American Economics Association's Journal of Economic Perspectives, where he is the informal editor of the Retrospectives feature. Persky is the author of The Burden of Dependency, an exploration of the history of economic thought in the Southern U.S. He is a co-author of When Corporations Leave Town, and Does "Trickle Down" Work?, both concerned with distributional implications of metropolitan economic development strategies. Persky's politics slant to the labor left.

Persky applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Political Economy of Progress: John Stuart Mill and Modern Radicalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 starts a discussion of British agrarianism's influence on John Stuart Mill's approach to land reform. As such most of the page is a fairly standard treatment of the "True Levellers" or Diggers. The line is strongly influenced by Christopher Hill. There are a couple of good quotes from Gerrard Winstanley. In one he argues that the "'Creator Reason' had fashioned the world as a 'Common Treasury'...But the earth has been "hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves."

Interesting stuff, but not all that original.

Then I noticed part of a section introduction sitting at the very top of the page:
Mill eschewed broad calls for the expropriation and direct redistribution of land...Rather, his proposals paralleled the approach Britain had taken with respect to slave holders [i.e. compensation].
Reading that over, I felt better about the present exercise (and Ford Madox Ford’s proposition). For at the heart of the book is a reading of Mill that emphasizes his deeply radical vision, his conviction that progress makes possible meaningful change, and his fear of chaotic leveling. That thesis is at least partially suggested by the above quote. Mill anticipated the peaceful emancipation of labor, land, and capital. Over time, the wealth generated by the technological advancements of the industrial revolution would allow the compensation of slave owners, landlords and capitalists, while the working classes created a co-operative world that required their active participation and allowed their individual development. The book goes on to argue that from Marx to G.A. Cohen and the luck egalitarians, modern radicalism has been very much influenced by this political economy of progress, even though it has often failed to appreciate fully the coherence of Mill’s vision.
Learn more about The Political Economy of Progress at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue