Antiurban political economists in Scotland after Smith

James Anderson on
town and country

Image: Painter William Wylde’s
Manchester, from Kersal Moor (1852)

A couple days ago I somehow found myself reading Adam Anderson, Dugald Stewart, Arthur Young, and James Anderson, all lesser economists of the Scottish Enlightenment. This was part of my background reading on the antithesis between town and country.

Last week I posted some classical bourgeois views on the issue. While James Steuart and the French Physiocrats idealized the countryside somewhat, assigning it priority over the emerging commercial and industrial centers of modern Europe, Smith stressed a kind of harmonious reciprocity or equilibrium between the two. Smith stood virtually alone in advocating for the city. His successors in fact opposed his position.

I’m reposting a section of James Anderson’s 1794 article “Of Manufacturing and Agriculture” here to give a sense of the deep conservatism of antibourgeois, anti-liberal aristocrats after Smith. Not until Ricardo and Sismondi were the main lines of Smith’s argument extended in any measurable way. Even then, Ricardo was never as keen on the novelty of capitalist conurbations, and Sismondi succumbed at times to romanticism in favoring “territorial wealth” (agriculture, the countryside) over “commercial wealth” (industry, the town).

The radicalism of Smith’s economic theory comes through especially sharply when contrasted with tracts like this.

William Hogarth's Harlot's Progress, Plate II (1732), in which Molly seduces a depraved Jewish urbanite

William Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, Plate II (1732),
in which Molly seduces a depraved Jewish urbanite

Of manufacturing and agriculture

James Anderson

Manufactures are subjected to great variations in the demand at market. Sometimes the orders for those of one sort are so great, that the highest exertions are required for supplying that demand. During this period every thing assumes the most inviting appearance. The master manufacturers have it in their power to enhance the price or diminish the quality. Their profits are great. Every one is anxious to obtain as great a share as possible in this gainful business; he tries to obtain as many hands as possible; journeymen, of course, become scarce, and obtain higher wages; this induces more persons to enter into that business. All is life and bustle; and smiling prosperity brightens every countenance. The lower classes of the people are enabled to pick and cull the nicest viands; for rearing which the farmer gets great prices, so as to enable him to abandon more common articles of produce. Continue reading