Thoughts and Details on Scarcity

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Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, Originally Presented to the Right Hon. William Pitt, in the month of November, 1795 is a memorandum written by the Whig MP Edmund Burke to the Prime Minister of Great Britain William Pitt the Younger. It was published posthumously in 1800, along with an unfinished letter Burke was writing to the Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, Arthur Young.

Edmund Burke 18th-century Anglo-Irish statesman and political theorist

Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman born in Dublin, as well as an author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who after moving to London in 1750 served as a member of parliament (MP) between 1766 and 1794 in the House of Commons with the Whig Party.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom head of Her Majestys Government in the United Kingdom

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and together with their Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Monarch, to Parliament, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate. The office of Prime Minister is one of the Great Offices of State. The current holder of the office, Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, was appointed by the Queen on 13 July 2016.

William Pitt the Younger 18th/19th-century British statesman

William Pitt the Younger was a prominent British Tory statesman of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He became the youngest British prime minister in 1783 at the age of 24. He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer for most of his time as Prime Minister. He is known as "the Younger" to distinguish him from his father, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, called William Pitt the Elder or simply "Chatham", who had previously served as Prime Minister.

In the memorandum Burke claimed that it was not the government's responsibility to provide for the necessities of life and that labour is a commodity which will rise and fall according to the laws of supply and demand. Whenever people fall on hard times it should be left to private charity rather than state aid to alleviate their suffering. Burke further claimed that the laws of commerce were the laws of nature and therefore the laws of God. He accepted that there were exceptions to these rules and he set out what he believed should be the limits:

Supply and demand economic model of price determination in microeconomics

In microeconomics, supply and demand is an economic model of price determination in a market. It postulates that, holding all else equal, in a competitive market, the unit price for a particular good, or other traded item such as labor or liquid financial assets, will vary until it settles at a point where the quantity demanded will equal the quantity supplied, resulting in an economic equilibrium for price and quantity transacted. However, this model does not hold in cases with positive feedback which can lead to an economic bubble as in the housing market in the early 21st century that led to the subprime mortgage crisis.

God Divine entity, supreme being and principal object of faith

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. The conceptions of God, as described by theologians, commonly include the attributes of omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-present), and as having an eternal and necessary existence. Depending on one's kind of theism, these attributes are used either in way of analogy, or in a literal sense as distinct properties. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence". Psychoanalyst Carl Jung equated religious ideas of God with transcendental aspects of consciousness in his interpretation.

That the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy; its revenue; its military force by sea and land; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity.

Samuel Whitbread, a parliamentary ally of Burke's rival Charles James Fox, introduced a Bill on 9 December 1795 to enable magistrates to set minimum wages for agricultural labourers. Burke's letter to Young likely grew out of his opposition to this Bill. [1]

Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815) English politician

Samuel Whitbread was a British politician.

Charles James Fox 18th/19th-century British statesman

Charles James Fox, styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned 38 years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and who was the arch-rival of William Pitt the Younger. His father Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, a leading Whig of his day, had similarly been the great rival of Pitt's famous father William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. He rose to prominence in the House of Commons as a forceful and eloquent speaker with a notorious and colourful private life, though his opinions were rather conservative and conventional. However, with the coming of the American War of Independence and the influence of the Whig Edmund Burke, Fox's opinions evolved into some of the most radical ever to be aired in the Parliament of his era.

Magistrate officer of the state, usually judge

The term magistrate is used in a variety of systems of governments and laws to refer to a civilian officer who administers the law. In ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest ranking government officers, and possessed both judicial and executive powers. In other parts of the world, such as China, a magistrate was responsible for administration over a particular geographic area. Today, in some jurisdictions, a magistrate is a judicial officer who hears cases in a lower court, and typically deals with more minor or preliminary matters. In other jurisdictions, magistrates may be volunteers without formal legal training who perform a judicial role with regard to minor matters.

This tract was often praised by the Radical and Liberal MP and anti-Corn Law activist, Richard Cobden. [2]

Radicals (UK) parliamentary political grouping in the United Kingdom

The Radicals were a loose parliamentary political grouping in Great Britain and Ireland in the early to mid-19th century, who drew on earlier ideas of radicalism and helped to transform the Whigs into the Liberal Party.

Liberal Party (UK) political party of the United Kingdom, 1859–1988

The Liberal Party was one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom with the opposing Conservative Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The party arose from an alliance of Whigs and free trade Peelites and Radicals favourable to the ideals of the American and French Revolutions in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone. Despite being divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to government in 1905 and then won a landslide victory in the following year's general election.

The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and grain ("corn") enforced in Great Britain between 1815 and 1846. The word corn in the English spoken in 1815 Britain denotes wheat and not maize. They were designed to keep grain prices high to favour domestic producers, and represented British mercantilism. The Corn Laws imposed steep import duties, making it too expensive to import grain from abroad, even when food supplies were short.

Notes

  1. Robert Eccleshall, English Conservatism since the Restoration (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990), p. 75.
  2. John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905), p. 167.

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