Classical political economy, as taught in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and in England particularly, did capture the minds of the masses. The advocates of classical liberalism were able to present a vision so compelling, so soulful, that it motivated political support for major reform Think of the repeal of England’s Corn Laws, surely a difficult step. Why, after all, ought England to give up protection of its farmers? Only by presenting the larger vision of a free-trade England could the Corn Laws’ opponents prevail with lawmakers. When the reformers succeeded, the repeal’s passage changed the world.
DBx: Nine days ago – January 27th – marked the 175th anniversary of Prime Minister Robert Peel’s presentation to Parliament of his party’s plan to repeal Britain’s corn laws – that is, to repeal Britain’s protective tariffs on grains. These tariffs enriched British landowners at the expense of ordinary people.
Peel’s efforts succeeded. Five months later, on June 25th, 1846, the Duke of Wellington persuaded the House of Lords to enact the repeal . The repeal of the corn laws was driven largely by the ideas of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and other economists, and that were brought to life for the public by the Anti-Corn Law League , headed by the heroic Richard Cobden and John Bright.
Ideas do indeed matter.
On June 25th, 2021, my Mercatus Center colleagues and I will celebrate the 175th anniversary of the repeal of the corn laws. Details to follow in the coming weeks.
This short MRU video , narrated by Tyler Cowen, is an excellent overview of the corn laws and their repeal. (As Tyler reminds viewers, the word “corn” as used then in Britain meant, not maize, but wheat and other grains. The repeal of the corn laws thus resulted in lower prices of bread for the masses.)