Political economy and the problem of the plebs in eighteenth-century Britain

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Abstract

One of the central debates in eighteenth-century political economy concerned the role and status of the plebeian populace. This article examines the attempts by historians to understand the nature and significance of these discussions. I argue that writers have been engaged in answering two core questions. Firstly, how did attitudes to labour develop through the course of the eighteenth century and what was the role of Adam Smith's work within this process? Secondly, what was the relationship between political economy and the socio-economic reality faced by the lower orders? In tracing the various responses to these questions, my analysis looks at both the work by historians of economics concerning the transition from mercantilism to classical political economy, and E. P. Thompson's account of the movement from ‘moral economy’ to ‘political economy’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1214-1235
Number of pages22
JournalHistory Compass
Volume5
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

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