Using the debates between Classical political economists and their critics as our lens, this paper examines the question of whether we're the same or different. Starting with Adam Smith, Classical economics presumed that humans are the same in their capacity for language and trade ; observed differences were then explained by incentives, luck and history, and it is the "vanity of the philosopher" incorrectly to conclude otherwise. Such "analytical egalitarianism" was overthrown sometime after 1850 , when notions of race and hierarchy came to infect social analysis as a result of attacks on homogeneity by the Victorian Sages (including Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin), in anthropology and biology (James Hunt and Charles Darwin), and among political economists themselves (W.R. Greg). Two questions were at issue. Do everyone's preferences count equally, and is everyone equally capable of making economic decisions? In Smith's account, philosophers and subjects alike are capable of making decisions. The oppositional view held that some are different from others. Since "difference" implied "superiority" in the period we study, we call this doctrine "analytical hierarchicalism."
Copyright © 2005 The Japanese Society for the History of Economic Thought. This article first appeared in History of Economic Thought 47:2 (2005), 15-31.
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Peart, Sandra J., and David M. Levy. "Attitudes toward Race, Hierarchy, and Transformation in the 19th Century." History of Economic Thought47, no. 2 (2005): 15-31.