An Economics Reading List

War, Colonialism, and Imperialism

Hobson, John A., Imperialism: A Study, 1902

    In a world newly concerned with international frictions between developed and developing nations, no work could be more timely than Hobson’s sweeping study on the history, philosophy, and economics behind human aggression, nationalism, colonialism, eugenics, and imperialism. Hobson pokes holes in dozens of common, faulty rationalizations of nationalistic, cultural, educational, genetic, scientific, and political arguments that previously supported imperialistic conquerings.

    Hobson, a historian and journalist with interest in economics, is often casually thought of as a Marxist or Socialist. However, his independent thought defies simple labels. Although his understanding of markets and marginal analysis was weak (in Part I, Chapters 5-6 for example, he never considers markets or interest rate adjustments), his grasp of the sweeping issues involved when cultures collide was compassionate, prescient, thoroughly based in factual analysis, and consistently in favor of the rights of individuals and against the often-thoughtless and misapplied actions of governments throughout the world. The empirical evidence he collected on colonialism in Part I, Chapters 2-4 is an innovative, courageous test of ideas first presented by Adam Smith.

    Imperialism starts to shine in Part II, which includes material on the economics of war, population growth and food production (including an excellent summary of Malthus) and the ways in which explorers and private mercantile interests often dominated the countries they encountered, with the naïve aid of home governments that had their own agendas and insufficient resources to understand or police the consequences or abuses of their designees. Hobson also appears to be one of the first to use the term “shock” (Part I, Chapter 4) in its modern economic usage of an economic event that may result in what we now think of as a business cycle or long-term trend shift.

    See also:

Smith, Adam, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in particular, Book IV, Chapter VII, Of Colonies.

Spencer, Herbert, The Man versus The State