Underrated economists, a continuing series

Adam Smith was not the only classical economist to understand economies of scale.  Edward Gibbon Wakefield had a well-worked out theory of the benefits of geographic clustering, along with a recipe for reform: force people to cluster together.

South Australia was a theory before it became a place. The theory owed most to the choice of place to Captain Charles Sturt. The gestation of the settlement in the seven years before the first colonists landed involved a blend of idealism and philanthropy, commercial speculation, comprise and muddle. The initial impetus of ideas came from Wakefield, whose theory of ‘systematic colonisation’ offered a partial solution to the perplexing economic and social conditions of Britain at the time. Wakefield’s views were not new, but he expressed them persuasively and they were well propagated by Robert Gouger who visited Wakefield in London’s Newgate Gaol in 1829 and discussed his theory of colonisation. In essence, ‘systematic colonisation’ required that all land should be sold at or above a fixed price and the proceeds should be used to provide free passage for a carefully selected labour force consisting of the young adult poor. The pace of emigration should depend on the volume of land sales, and a large degree of self government should be granted to the colonists in matters of land sales, emigration and revenue. As no convicts were to be admitted, no garrison troops would be needed; above all, such a colony should ‘be respectable’ and self-supporting.

The notion of concentration of settlement was added to the stock of theoretical ideals by an eighty year old radical political philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. He argued that the settlement should be founded on an entirely new principle entitled the vicinity-maximising-or-dispersion-preventing principle.

Read more here, and yes I am in Melbourne now.  To this day most Australians live on the southeast coast.  Here is material on Wakefield and New Zealand.  Bentham is also much underrated, but that is for another day…


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