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IS POLITICAL ECONONY A SCIENCE?
THE following pages speak of Practical Political Economy. The expression might seem to denote a particular department of what is called Political Economy, or else a special application of its truths. I do not use the term in either of these senses. I mean by it simply Political Economy itself. The word Practical is added solely in contradistinction to what may be called Scientific Political Economy. It is intended to indicate a mode of treatment which not only does not claim to be scientific, but which supposes the strictly. scientific method to be a mistake. It implies that the body of knowledge, summed up under the title of Political Economy, belongs entirely to the every-day practice of human life.
Political Economy finds processes applied all the world over to the satisfaction of the wants of human life in the matter of wealth. It does not invent nor discover them. It does not announce them, like the developments of geometry or the generalisations of physical science, as new discoveries previously unknown, but now revealed by the application of systematic reasoning. The ordinary instincts of human nature
have adopted these processes ever since the origin of man with more or less sagacity and intelligence. Political Economy studies them, discerns intellectually in what their essence and vitality consist, explains them to the understandings of common men, and performs the vast service of clearing them from that admixture of error, both of thought and action, which insinuates itself into every department of human existence. But when these processes have been thus explained, and rescued from that evil and indestructible weed, false theory, they are seen to be practices which multitudes of men of all ages of the world have carried out with a full perception that they were the right thing to do. They did not owe them to Political Economy, though Political Economy has strengthened the insight into their rightness, and has saved them from the invasion of arbitrary and erroneous ideas. Indeed it may be almost doubted whether Political Economy ever would have been born, had not the selfishness and folly of men and nations crushed the instinctive impulses of human nature. If the mercantile theory and protection had not weighed heavily on the common sense of mankind, there might have been a Political Economy of the closet or of sociology-and for how much would it have counted amongst the nations ?-a Political Economy for the people would never, probably, have been constructed.
If this conception of Political Economy be correct, it will be perceived at once that its value lies in its being understood by the mass of men. Here is its true field of action and influence. Its aim is to make common sense the supreme ruler of industry and trade. The test of a true Political Economy is that its teaching, its