IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Market disciplines in Victorian Britain

Listed author(s):
  • Johnson, Paul
Registered author(s):

    One of the many miracles of Victorian Britain’s market economy was that it worked most efficiently when it was left to regulate itself – or at least, this is what the great majority of Victorians believed. The prevailing economic orthodoxy throughout the nineteenth century assumed, following Adam Smith, that the market was naturally self-governing, and that economic intervention was generally unnecessary and usually unproductive. This was a policy regime under which the Victorian economy thrived. Yet even as this orthodoxy seemed to become embedded in a public policy of free trade and minimal government in the 1840s, there emerged a recognition that in some circumstances the discipline of the market could not be relied on to produce optimal outcomes. J. S. Mill identified a number of economic 'problems' - natural monopolies, public goods, externalities - for which the unregulated market could produce sub-optimal outcomes, and this analysis provided an intellectual rationale for limited government intervention. However, belief in the autonomy of the market was such that, even as economic policy became increasingly interventionist, most refused to acknowledge that the market in Victorian Britain was a constructed, not a natural phenomenon. The idea that the market was a legal and ideological construct, value laden and structured to promote certain interests, was inconceivable to most Victorians, and remains so today. This paper explores how the ideological environment into which facts arrive can be the most important criterion upon which their acceptance or rejection depends. This paper looks at a number of the dilemmas regarding the market system that exercised the thoughts of Victorians. In three separate sections the paper looks in turn at cases of market discipline, of market indiscipline, and at ways in which the market itself was disciplined from outside.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    File Function: Open access version.
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 22542.

    in new window

    Length: 32 pages
    Date of creation: Sep 2005
    Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22542
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
    LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.

    Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22542. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (LSERO Manager on behalf of EH Dept.)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.