Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy
By John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) originally wrote the
Principles of Political Economy, with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy very quickly, having studied economics under the rigorous tutelage of his father, James, since his youth. It was published in 1848 (London: John W. Parker, West Strand) and was republished with changes and updates a total of seven times in Mill’s lifetime.The edition presented here is that prepared by W. J. Ashley in 1909, based on Mill’s 7th edition, 1870. Ashley followed the 7th edition with great care, noting changes in the editions in footnotes and in occasional square brackets within the text. The text provides English translations to several lengthy quotations originally quoted by Mill in French. Ashley selected these from an 1865 “People’s Edition” of the Principles, but left in those quotations that had been omitted in that edition. He also prepared a useful Bibliographical Appendix, with additional readings and excerpts from some of Mill’s later writings, which we also include in this Econlib Edition. More on Mill’s life and works, as well as details of Ashley’s procedure, can be found in his Introduction.A few corrections of obvious typos were made for this website edition. However, because the original edition was so internally consistent and carefully proofread, we have erred on the side of caution, allowing some typos to remain lest someone doing academic research wishes to follow up. We have changed small caps to full caps for ease of using search engines.Internal references by page numbers have been replaced by linked paragraph reference numbers appropriate for this online edition. Paragraph references typically have three parts: the book, chapter, and paragraph. E.g.,
I.XI.15 refers to Book I, Chapter XI, paragraph 15.
William J. Ashley, ed.
First Pub. Date
London; Longmans, Green and Co.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of John Stuart Mill courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Preliminary Remarks
- Bibliographical Appendix
The appearance of a treatise like the present, on a subject on which so many works of merit already exist, may be thought to require some explanation.
It might, perhaps, be sufficient to say, that no existing treatise on Political Economy contains the latest improvements which have been made in the theory of the subject. Many new ideas, and new applications of ideas, have been elicited by the discussions of the last few years, especially those on Currency, on Foreign Trade, and on the important topics connected more or less intimately with Colonization: and there seems reason that the field of Political Economy should be re-surveyed in its whole extent, if only for the purpose of incorporating the results of these speculations, and bringing them into harmony with the principles previously laid down by the best thinkers on the subject.
To supply, however, these deficiencies in former treatises bearing a similar title, is not the sole, or even the principal object which the author has in view. The design of the book is different from that of any treatise on Political Economy which has been produced in England since the work of Adam Smith.
The most characteristic quality of that work, and the one in which it most differs from some others which have equalled or even surpassed it as mere expositions of the general principles of the subject, is that it invariably associates the principles with their applications. This of itself implies a much wider range of ideas and of topics than are included in Political Economy, considered as a branch of abstract speculation. For practical purposes, Political Economy is inseparably intertwined with many other branches of Social Philosophy. Except on matters of mere detail, there are perhaps no practical questions, even among those which approach nearest to the character of purely economical questions, which admit of being decided on economical premises alone. And it is because Adam Smith never loses sight of this truth; because, in his applications of Political Economy, he perpetually appeals to other and often far larger considerations than pure Political Economy affords—that he gives that well-grounded feeling of command over the principles of the subject for purposes of practice, owing to which the
Wealth of Nations, alone among treatises on Political Economy has not only been popular with general readers, but has impressed itself strongly on the minds of men of the world and of legislators.
It appears to the present writer that a work similar in its object and general conception to that of Adam Smith, but adapted to the more extended knowledge and improved ideas of the present age, is the kind of contribution which Political Economy at present requires. The
Wealth of Nations is in many parts obsolete, and in all, imperfect. Political Economy, properly so called, has grown up almost from infancy since the time of Adam Smith; and the philosophy of society, from which practically that eminent thinker never separated his more peculiar theme, though still in a very early stage of its progress, has advanced many steps beyond the point at which he left it. No attempt, however, has yet been made to combine his practical mode of treating his subject with the increased knowledge since acquired of its theory, or to exhibit the economical phenomena of society in the relation in which they stand to the best social ideas of the present time, as he did, with such admirable success, in reference to the philosophy of his century.
Such is the idea which the writer of the present work has kept before him. To succeed even partially in realizing it, would be a sufficiently useful achievement, to induce him to incur willingly all the chances of failure. It is requisite, however, to add, that although his object is practical, and, as far as the nature of the subject admits, popular, he has not attempted to purchase either of those advantages by the sacrifice of strict scientific reasoning. Though he desires that his treatise should be more than a mere exposition of the abstract doctrines of Political Economy, he is also desirous that such an exposition should be found in it.
[Addition to the Preface in the Second Edition, 1849]
The additions and alterations in the present edition are generally of little moment; but the increased importance which the Socialist controversy has assumed since this work was written has made it desirable to enlarge the chapter which treats of it; the more so, as the objections therein stated to the specific schemes propounded by some Socialists have been erroneously understood as a general condemnation of all that is commonly included under that name. A full appreciation of Socialism, and of the questions which it raises, can only be advantageously attempted in a separate work.
Preface to the Third Edition [July, 1852]
The present edition has been revised throughout, and several chapters either materially added to or entirely re-cast. Among these may be mentioned that on the “Means of abolishing Cottier Tenantry,” the suggestions contained in which had reference exclusively to Ireland, and to Ireland in a condition which has been much modified by subsequent events. An addition has been made to the theory of International Values laid down in the eighteenth chapter of the Third Book.
The chapter on Property has been almost entirely re-written. I was far from intending that the statement which it contained of the objections to the best known Socialist schemes should be understood as a condemnation of Socialism, regarded as an ultimate result of human progress. The only objection to which any great importance will be found to be attached in the present edition is the unprepared state of mankind in general, and of the labouring classes in particular; their extreme unfitness at present for any order of things, which would make any considerable demand on either their intellect or their virtue. It appears to me that the great end of social improvement should be to fit mankind by cultivation for a state of society combining the greatest personal freedom with that just distribution of the fruits of labour which the present laws of property do not profess to aim at. Whether, when this state of mental and moral cultivation shall be attained, individual property in some form (though a form very remote from the present) or community of ownership in the instruments of production and a regulated division of the produce will afford the circumstances most favourable to happiness, and best calculated to bring human nature to its greatest perfection, is a question which must be left, as it safely may, to the people of that time to decide. Those of the present are not competent to decide it.
The chapter on the “Futurity of the Labouring Classes” has been enriched with the results of the experience afforded, since this work was first published, by the co-operative associations in France. That important experience shows that the time is ripe for a larger and more rapid extension of association among labourers than could have been successfully attempted before the calumniated democratic movements in Europe, which, though for the present put down by the pressure of brute force, have scattered widely the seeds of future improvement. I have endeavoured to designate more clearly the tendency of the social transformation, of which these associations are the initial step; and at the same time to disconnect the co-operative cause from the exaggerated or altogether mistaken declamations against competition, so largely indulged in by its supporters.
[Addition to the Preface in the Fourth Edition, 1857]
The present edition (the fourth) has been revised throughout, and some additional explanations inserted where they appeared to be necessary. The chapters to which most has been added are those on the Influence of Credit on Prices, and on the Regulation of a Convertible Paper Currency.
[Addition to the Preface in the Fifth Edition, 1862]
The present fifth edition has been revised throughout, and the facts, on several subjects, brought down to a later date than in the former editions. Additional arguments and illustrations have been inserted where they seemed necessary, but not in general at any considerable length.
[Addition to the Preface in the Sixth, Edition, 1865]
The present, like all previous editions, has been revised throughout, and additional explanations, or answers to new objections, have been inserted where they seemed necessary; but not, in general, to any considerable length. The chapter in which the greatest addition has been made is that on the Rate of Interest; and for most of the new matter there introduced, as well as for many minor improvements, I am indebted to the suggestions and criticisms of my friend Professor Cairnes, one of the most scientific of living political economists.
[Addition to the Preface in “The People’s Edition,” 1865]
The present edition is an exact transcript from the sixth, except that all extracts and most phrases in foreign languages have been translated into English, and a very small number of quotations, or parts of quotations, which appeared superfluous, have been struck out.
*51 A reprint of an old controversy with the
Quarterly Review on the condition of landed property in France, which had been subjoined as an Appendix, has been dispensed with.
Preface to the Seventh Edition 
The present edition, with the exception of a few verbal corrections,
*54 corresponds exactly with the last Library Edition and with the People’s Edition. Since the publication of these, there has been some instructive discussion on the theory of Demand and Supply, and on the influence of Strikes and Trades Unions on wages, by which additional light has been thrown on these subjects; but the results, in the author’s opinion, are not yet ripe for incorporation in a general treatise on Political Economy.
*55 For an analogous reason, all notice of the alteration made in the Land Laws of Ireland by the recent Act, is deferred until experience shall have had time to pronounce on the operation of that well-meant attempt to deal with the greatest practical evil in the economic institutions of that country.
Fortnightly Review of May and June, 1869, and from Mr. Thornton’s reply to that review in the second edition of his very instructive book. [See Appendix O.
The Wages Fund Doctrine.]
The Mercantile System.]
The Definition of Wealth.]
The Types of Society.]
Book I. Chapter I. Section 2
Book I. Chapter II. Section 4