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The empire strikes back: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and the Robust Political Economy of empire

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  • Christopher Coyne

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  • Abigail Hall

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Abstract

Recent scholarship regarding the idea of a U.S. Empire has raised serious questions as to the feasibility and desirability of imperial ambitions. This paper traces the debate over the net-benefit of empire back to the Classical economists. Adam Smith argued that the British Empire was a net cost while John Stuart Mill concluded the same empire was a net benefit. Contemporary arguments about a U.S. Empire map neatly to the divergent views of Smith and Mill. In addition to engaging in an exercise in history of thought, we use Smith’s political economy as a means of adjudicating between the different claims regarding the feasibility of empire. In doing so, we subject the claims of proponents of American Empire against the standard of robust political economy, which holds that intervention must generate desirable outcomes where less than ideal incentive and epistemic conditions hold. In doing so, we conclude that many of the claims made by proponents are fragile under less than ideal conditions. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Coyne & Abigail Hall, 2014. "The empire strikes back: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and the Robust Political Economy of empire," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 27(4), pages 359-385, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:revaec:v:27:y:2014:i:4:p:359-385
    DOI: 10.1007/s11138-013-0212-1
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Empire; Imperialism Adam Smith; John Stuart Mill; Robust Political Economy; B0; B10; B21; B31;

    JEL classification:

    • B0 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General
    • B10 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - General
    • B21 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Microeconomics
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals

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