Review (1888) of Gustave de Molinari’s
Fundamental Notions of Political Economy (1888)

by John Bates Clark (1847-1938)

Notions Fondamentales d’Économie Politique et Programme Économique. Par M. G. DE MOLINARI, Correspondant de l’Institut, Rédacteur en Chef du Journal des Économistes. Paris, Guillaumin et Cie., 1891. – 8vo, 458 pp.

GM-FNP.1 This work confines itself within the strictest of orthodox limits and yet makes progress. It contains, as its title implies, a positive plan of reform, based on natural law and in harmony with the author’s view of the evolution of society. In the introduction there is a compact restatement of natural economic laws as presented in an earlier work of the author. In this is traced the operation of competition in securing the survival of superior races and of superior social institutions. Then follow a general statement of economic principles, an account of the genesis of capitalistic industry, and a separate and extended treatment of the process of production, distribution and consumption. A valuable part of the work presents in nine chapters the elements of economic progress and the obstacles that it encounters. This part prepares the way for the third division of the book, that, namely, which contains the “economic programme,” or plan of reform, in which for practical readers interest will chiefly centre.
GM-FNP.2 This concluding part gives an answer to the question with which socialists sometimes disconcert their critics: “What do you propose to do?” A scientific system that recognizes serious evils, rejects the remedies that are proposed and offers none of its own, is at a serious disadvantage. M. de Molinari does not content himself with negative work. He first reveals the weakness of socialism, and then offers, as chief elements of a positive programme of reform, free trade, security against war, the simplification of the state, the unification of markets, measures for securing on a grand scale the mobility of labor and a perfected self-government. This is avowedly a laissez-faire programme. In its entirety it will appeal to a considerable circle of readers, as embracing about all the positive changes for which it is worthwhile to contend. Parts of the programme will win a much wider assent. The sixth chapter of the third part of the work offers a valuable study of the limits of economic reform. It gives philosophical reasons for the instinctive rejection by every sound mind of schemes that promise too much.

Political Science Quarterly 7, no. 1 (March 1892), pp. 153-4.

[See also E. Castelot’s review]

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