Richard Reinsch (00:19):
Hello, I’m Richard Reinsch. Today we’re talking with Gregory Collins about his impressive new book, Commerce and Manners in Edmund Burke’s Political Economy. Gregory Collins is postdoctoral associate and a lecturer in the Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics at Yale University. Gregory, welcome to the program.
Gregory Collins (00:43):
Hi, Richard. Thank you for the opportunity to talk.
Richard Reinsch (00:44):
Excellent. So thinking about political economy, which is the term you used throughout the book, what is Edmund Burke’s political economy? And maybe also, what do you mean by political economy? I think that’s worth thinking about too. We usually just think about economics, and economics almost as a separate sphere of study, but I think you mean something more here.
Gregory Collins (01:04):
Yes, that’s a great question because much of my book really hinges on an appropriate understanding of what political economy meant in Burke’s time and what it means today. So as you suggested, in Burke’s age, statesmen, thinkers, they studied political economy, not economics. Economics today is more of a specialized narrow field with particular quantitative methodological approaches. While in Burke’s time, it was a more capacious, holistic understanding of the intersecting concerns of commercial activity, trade, both domestic and foreign, as well as the broader social/religious/ethical preconditions for commercial activity. It was in this wide sense that Burke understood and tried to study the implications of commercial activity, which included, certainly, a particular insight into trade, taxation of revenue, but also broader considerations about the role of commerce in the wider social order.
Richard Reinsch (01:59):
What did Burke… What was his approach to political economy?
Gregory Collins (02:03):
His approach was… I would characterize it as a resistance towards specialization, in the broadest sense. He used this premise to inform his understanding of commercial activity, both in regard to the free internal grain trade, which was the subject of his primary economic writing, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, and it informed his understanding of the political economy of the French Revolution and the political economy of European civilization as a whole. So, one of the core arguments in the book, which I’m going to jump to it right now, in the chapters on the French Revolution, and the great intellectual historian, John Pocock, the first, I believe, to recognize this in a pioneering essay he wrote on Burke’s political economy on French revolution.
Burke grew out of particular ethical preconditions that predated the mass commercial economy. The prior religious and social and ethical traditions that were built up throughout the ages by what he called the ‘spirit of the gentleman and the spirit of religion.’ So British establishment, such as the Church of England, and the hereditary aristocracy, which provided and encouraged a culture of learning, patronage, moral and religious instruction, all furnished the conditions of stability, moderation, an element of courtesy, chivalry, of course, that provided the necessary environment for commercial activity to emerge. Commercial activity which was more prone to vicissitudes, vagaries, unpredictability, and then the more stable orders of religion and the landed aristocracy. So, for Burke, these two pillars were essential for applying this foundation for the emergence of the mass commercial economy. If those two pillars withered way, this is part of Burke’s argument on French Revolution, then social order would decline, which for him would include commercial activity.
Richard Reinsch (03:49):
You note in the book, this put him at odds with many Enlightenment theorists, including many in the Scottish Enlightenment, on the origins of markets and the perpetuation of markets as well.
Gregory Collins (03:59):
Yes, yes. This is really a distinctive quality of Burke, with regard to sovereignty at the time. Many of the Scots, who I have to be fond of them, David Hume, Amanda Smith, Adam Ferguson. Well, Adam Ferguson’s argument was probably closer to Burke than the other two. But the general tenor of their understanding of markets is not that they severed markets morality. In fact, as we know Smith’s was moral philosophy, and he wrote a great book on moral philosophy, but as I… I outline the book… And Pocock also mentioned this, they didn’t appear to draw Burke’s specific argument that commercial activity grew out of these preconditions prior to the Enlightenment. And so not only, for Burke was there a necessary moral foundation for markets. This moral foundation was not a modern moral foundation. It was a pre-modern moral foundation. This is not to say that Burke elevated a romantic shimmery, but he thought that the roots of commercial order could be discovered prior to the industrial revolution, prior to the available-hand concept, prior to the elevation of profits as a worthy human endeavor. And then in addition, Burke he held an interesting attitude towards the idea of the doux-commerce theory, which is embraced by the Scots, embraced by the French, Enlightenment theorists as well, Thomas Paine, famously.
Richard Reinsch (05:08):
What’s the doux commerce theory?
Gregory Collins (05:10):
So doux commerce theory is the idea, and this idea persists today that the increase in commercial relations between two parties, including two nations, tend to produce peaceful effects over time. Two trading partners, as opposed to invading one another for land or power, they will find mutual interest in trading goods and services from one another. And therefore they have an investment in each other that would discourage them from starting a war with one another. The reasoning goes, therefore, the enhancement of commercial relations will promote peace relations over time. Now, Burke, he does not dismiss this. And in fact, he adopts this reasoning in regard to Ireland and England in his most comprehensive statement on free trade when he wrote two letters to merchants of Bristol, the community who was representing that opposed the free trade measures with Ireland.
Burke argued in favor of the free trade measures, for many of the reasons that advocates of doux commerce theory espouse today, that they do tend to promote peaceful social relations on their mutual interest and increasing trade with one another. And he also does this reasoning with regard to the American colonies in his famous speech on America. He lavished his praise on the Americans for their ingenuity, their industry, their intelligence, their hard-work, their commercial undertaking. And these are two of the clearest instances in which Burke does embrace this idea that the increase in commercial relations will tend to promote peaceful social relations, but he does not necessarily adopt this in his broader political thoughts. And the most glaring case was the French.
There are a couple examples. In 1786, Anglo-French Commercial Treaty. I mentioned his speech on Traders’ Correspondence primarily 1790s, during the French revolutionary wars, which Burke, push back against this idea that increasing commercial relations with France, or pre-revolutionary France and France during the revolution, would not necessarily have peace relations. The simple idea is that if you are engaged in commerce with an avowed enemy or rival, that is not a guarantee that that rival will tend to adopt peaceful measures. For Burke, in that sense, commercial considerations should be subordinate to wider national aims of honor of national interest. And how I harmonize these various strands of his thoughts and doux commerce, and as has been said before, it was not necessarily systematic thinkers, not treatises mostly.
So you have to piece together his different thoughts from various speeches and writings. I argue that, for Burke, even the doux commerce thesis, somewhat to his broader point about how modern commercial activity requires ethical preconditions. The doux commerce thesis, especially international relations, also requires pre-economic commitment, shared values, shared principles, which is why he thought that free trade between England and Ireland, England and the Americans best reflects the doux commerce. But in the case of France, which not have broad shared political principles, he did not think that increased commercial activity between England and France would have a peace relations. And so that’s the distinction I carve out in the book.
Richard Reinsch (08:09):
Okay. So you wouldn’t say Edmund Burke was a free trader, but you also wouldn’t say he was a mercantilist. You would say he is balancing international trade, or transnational trade, for its good effects and good consequences. But those aren’t its own justification. It has to also be balanced against national interest and the needs of the empire, and what’s going to best serve it, which… As I read your book, I heard you to be saying, “Generally, Edmund Burke favored pretty liberalized trade, but he made crucial exceptions.” And you’ve kind of articulated some of those here. And thinking about Burke’s political economy, I thought we might go to the beginning of your book and think about the arcane topic of Britain’s internal grain trade. You write at the beginning… Because I think it’s instructive in a lot of ways. You write at the beginning of chapter two, you say, “Burke discerned poetry in the elusive motions of England’s internal grain trade.” Gregory, talk about that poetry.
Gregory Collins (09:14):
Yes. The internal grain trade turned out to be one of the primary protagonists in this narrative. The internal grain trade was a subject of Burke’s primary arcane treatise, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, which really wasn’t a treatise. It was a private letter written for government officials that addressed the particular circumstances of mid 1790s England, which in the middle of French revolutionary war has experienced a number of difficulties, including spiking green prices, increasing normalization, population growth. There’s only a few years before Thomas Malthus wrote his famous book on whether the food supply would be able to sustain the population growth. And for Burke, however, his principle argument in this track, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, is that there was, what I call, poetry in order to their internal grain trade of England, that was delicate, that was fragile, but that nevertheless tended to work absent arbitrary meddling government intervention. And so Burke’s principle message in Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, he wrote this in light of calls to intervene in and increase regulations of the labor contracts between employers, employees, laborers, and farmers, and impose harsh controls, published in the new public graineries. Burke argued for government restraints. He thought that there was this order that emerged from the private contractual arrangements and interactions between farmers and laborers in the grain economy. And particularly in times of scarcity, he was very suspicious of the idea that government meddling, suppress controls, wage regulations, coopered to more beneficial consequences than if the grain trade was left to its own order. Now, this sounds like, and it is, a defense of a free market, a free domestic market. Throughout the book, I decided that this was, for Burkes, the most comprehensive intellectual statement on the internal grain trade. He defended the internal grain trade a number of other instances in the early 1770s and later in 1787, when they were tends to revive bans on, what we today call, middlemen trading activities, forestalling, rebranding and engrossing, which were various ways in which traders would buy up provisions before the edge of the market, and then we sell them at a higher price. So in these various instances, including in Thoughts and Details on Scarcity work issued a robust defense of the middlemen in the grain economy or enabling the efficient distribution of resources, particularly those in need. And the other additional point is that Burke anticipated as it’s described in the book, as a Hayek insight into the limits of rationality in coordinating complex socioeconomic activities. In Thoughts and Details on Scarcity
Richard Reinsch (11:55):
So, in this period, that he’s writing the Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, you’ve got a crisis, we’ve got food shortages, we’ve got spikes in prices, we’ve got people not making enough money, it seems. You’ve got all of these conditions. We confront those periodically in our own economy in different ways. And he’s pushing back against this… And from what I could read, in a way that Hayek would agree with, that Milton Friedman would largely agree with, he’s emphasizing that in a time of scarcity of seemingly economic failure. And he’s confronting proposals like a minimum wage.
As I think about it, they wanted to have the government take over granaries. So you could think about a public option for health care, as an analogy, there’s this desire to eliminate, as you were talking about middlemen, but those are just people who are making money, but they’re also providing an efficient way for grain to reach down-market buyers. And this is an efficiency thing. So he’s confronting all of this, and he’s saying, “Look, you’re actually going to make the situation worse. You’re going to depress the market for longer conditions. The recovery is going to take longer. It’s going to be less robust, but we’re not going to know what the real prices are.” So, all of these provisions are going to backfire,” as we say. “They will have unintended consequences.” And I thought that maybe you can tell us how successful he was in this debate. But I thought that was incredibly instructive. These things continue. These battles over market failure, not taking into account government failure, policy failure. All of this Burke is confronting here in a nice instructive way.
Gregory Collins (13:32):
Yes, this moment in the 1790s was the defining moment in England’s global economy, including its grain economy in the 18th century, really emerging for the more conspicuous presence, when Burke entered parliament, in 1760s. There were these periods in which there were food shortages, spikes in grain prices, instability in the grain market. And this was a constant subject of Burke’s concern of legislators concern about the time period. As exemplified in 1772, I should mention, when Burke led the repeal of the bans on middlemen trading activities, which were enforced… Not really enforced, but they’re still on the books. Edmund Burke or the repeal and parliament of these bans on the basis of what you just said, that these regulations tend to create conditions that were even worse for participants in the agriculture economy, when back in Burke’s judgment, they actually facilitated smooth efficiency of the distribution of goods and services.
Burke provided a thinking, comprehensive rebuke of what he called the paper money despotism of the French Revolution. The French revolutionaries, they seized the property of the Gallican Church, which owned around one 10th of landmass, I believe, in France, at that time. They were going to sell the church property to help pay down France’s debt. They have a financial calamity and short France’s finances.
In fact, last semester I taught a course on constitutional and business ethics. And antitrust cases, Standard Oil cases, it referenced this repeal of middleman trade activities. It didn’t mention Burke’s name, but it mentioned this repeal in the early 1770s, as an example of which the English grew to realize that these bans actually tended to help the operation of economic forces in the long run, as opposed to undermine them. And so Burke had an immediate impact on this debate. This is when Burke’s free markets really come out, and it could easily see Milton Friedman endorsing these arguments, and Hayek as well.
Richard Reinsch (15:02):
I mean Burke is developing the Hayek’s famous knowledge article. He’s developing those insights. He’s understanding that the market requires a lot of information that comes to you in bits and pieces. And it’s the participants in the market who can make the best decision, not this comprehensive rationalist approach that is being urged upon the market.
Gregory Collins (15:24):
Precisely, precisely. And then he has a couple of great quotations in Thoughts and Details that outline that point that individual legislators, magistrates, justice or the peace at a time, simply did not possess the amount of knowledge necessary to regulate his employment contracts and to regulate the flow of grain with vigor in effect. And therefore, there should be great deference paid to the actual participants in the economy, who are actually making decisions on whether to enter into contracts with one another, because they simply hold more wisdom, knowledge and experience about the particular conditions, which vary from person to person from farmer to farmer, labor to labor. Now, as I mentioned the book, I tend to be sympathetic to Burke’s argument in this case. But a couple of criticisms are necessary to mention.
One is Burke, perhaps, paint two positive picture of these supposedly harmonious relations between farmers and laborers, and because there is a vast amount of literature on this particular time period. And whether these structural relations in the agriculture economy was as peaceful and harmonious and as mutually reciprocal as Burke suggests in Thoughts and Details on Scarcity. And so I mentioned a couple articles that pushed back against this… They’re not Burke per se, but pushed back against this idea of a harmonious relations between farmers and laborers. But given that… Because this is when Burke’s brought a philosophical project. He does not deny that there are hardships at the time period. What he is arguing, and what you were suggesting, is that given limited alternatives during periods of difficulty, such as scarcity, which is the best out of imperfect options. That is his main point. And his judgment in this case is that the best off imperfect option is to practice government restraint as opposed to metal in the internal economic activities of farmers and laborers.
Richard Reinsch (17:01):
Let me ask you more broadly a question, Greg. So would you say Edmund Burke… I mean, someone listening to his podcast might say, “Edmund Burke, kind of a classical liberal, markets, small government guy, and capitalism, can solve a lot of problems.” How would you situate him broadly in the relationship between government, markets, and civil society?
Gregory Collins (17:24):
Yeah, that’s a great question. And when I was writing this, I had sort of a running debate with myself about whether Burke was or was not a classical liberal, to what extent was he, to what extent was he not, which was probably detective from reading the book. I determined that he did overlap with elements, what we considered to be classical liberalism, and admittedly, sometimes we parse these distinctions too finely for people, which maybe work in a classroom, but in reality what the actual practical difference between some of these different thinkers. But Burke did depart from fundamental presuppositions of classical liberalism, such as locking at the most famously in his criticism of the idea of that social contract as a consensual pact of free and independent individuals who joined the society to preserve the pre-political natural rights. Edmund Burke famously attacks his reasoning in Reflections on the Revolution of France.
Richard Reinsch (20:21):
The other thing about the French Revolution too, in this regard, you write about the Edmund Burke problem. That is to say generally in favor of markets, widespread commerce. At times, he says that markets come from nature, they emerge from human nature. And yet he also condemns the French revolutionary’s argument that rights, abstractly understood, come from nature. And that justifies the erasure of literally centuries of French tradition, religion, culture, law, they’re going to build again. Talk about how Edmund Burke understood those things.
Gregory Collins (21:02):
And that is a fundamental philosophical dilemma, but in general, if something is by nature natural, and anything that does not accord with that idea of nature exists, all those institutions’ practices, customs, illegitimate because they don’t conform to nature. For Burke… As I mentioned in the first chapter, French Revolutionaries, they did, at moments, endorse a free internal grain trade, but then they ended up meddling and imposing price controls, which was one element of the historical backdrop for Burke in Thoughts and Details on Scarcity. And so Burke also endorse a free internal grain trade. So, to what extent was Burke sympathetic to some of the revolutionaries’ arguments.
Also, the other historical consideration is the emergence of the physiocrats, the French economist, who embraced the idea that society should conform to nature. And therefore they justified a free marketing grain, and they were also accused of being very, very rationalistic and pushing this idea of abstract rationalism in the 18th century. So how would it Burke overcome this idea that if he embraced free markets, in part, because they were based on nature, but the physiocrats were embracing free markets, but they were embracing abstract rationalism. And the revolutionaries embracing free markets to some extent, but they were overturning French society. But whether did Burke come down to this issue, unfortunately, Burke does not provide a sufficient answer for this, but I pose that Burke, as he mentioned on his Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, supply and demand laws were part of the laws of nature, which was the laws the commerce, which were the laws of nature, which were the laws of God, that’s sort of the phrasology that he uses.
Recognizing the finite resources in society for him was a law of nature. However, insofar, as he held the conception of evolved nature, a natural law in general, which he called the moral law, binding people together, this law of nature was not the end-point for discussion on these issues. It could be a starting point, but it’s certainly not the end point. This is so much his critique of natural rights. He never fully reject the idea of natural rights, but what he does is question its import in these practical questions of how to actually establish and maintain political society. So if Edmund laws were a part of law of nature, to what extent, for Burke, could we integrate this idea of law of nature within a wider framework of what is necessary to perpetuate civilization?
And for him, then you integrate this law of nature with what he considers to be the foundations of civilization, which is religion, aristocracy, learning, chivalry, this ethical code that predate a commercial economy. If you merge all these elements together, it could provide for commercial prosperity while also providing for these elements’ stability to cool the process of commercial prosperity. And so that’s how I thought and try to tease out the tension in the top between embracing the law of nature and embracing this idea of cosmic tradition. For him, they were mutually symbiotic and could balance one another in a way that could both promise the fruits of material goods while also protecting against the crass commercialization, commodification of civil society.
Richard Reinsch (23:56):
You also know too, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, that Burke seems to… He argues… “What I’m saying is coming true. You have eliminated your past, you’ve attempted to do that, and you want to create a market on paper money. You want to create a market heavily funded in debt, giving things to people and look what’s happening to you. The French economy is now awash in corruption, inefficiencies.” I thought you wrote about that well. Maybe talk about that, how he sees that the paper money thing playing out.
Gregory Collins (24:31):
Yeah. So this is one of the underappreciated aspects of Burke’s thoughts for the economy, otherwise. But he provided a thinking, comprehensive rebuke of what he called the paper money despotism of the French Revolution. The French revolutionaries, they seized the property of the Gallican Church, which owned around one 10th of landmass, I believe, in France, at that time. They were going to sell the church property to help pay down France’s debt. They have a financial calamity and short France’s finances. And they also introduced what was first the kind of bond, then they use this fiat paper money called Assignat, pardon my French. But I believe it’s called Assignat. And this paper money was distributed throughout France and with a lack of prudence in disregard for the potential destructive consequences of paper money not backed by any sort of metal. And what ended up happening was this paper money led to the depreciation of the currency, inflation, hyperinflation as Burke predicted, price instability, price unpredictability, a lack of distrust from participants in France’s economy at the time.
It led to the invasion of private property rights of French authorities seizing grain in the countryside when farmers were hoarding grain because of this lack of regularity, the lack of consistency, the lack of predictability in these internal French markets, which in Burke’s judgment, were exacerbated by this worthless paper money that for him reflected both the economic improprieties of the revolutionaries and also some of the philosophical abstractions of the French Revolution as well.
The idea of paper money, that that could be used as a saving grace to save the French economy. And for Burke, as Burke predicted in the Reflections of the Revolution of France, he criticizes these Assignats, he predicts that they are going to create hyperinflation, and that’s what ends up happening. And so this is another dimension of his political economy.
Richard Reinsch (26:26):
Let’s switch gears to India, to the India question. You write at length on this in relationship to Edmund Burke and his approach to the East India Company and its policies in India and the authority it held for the British government to operate in India. Burke initiated an impeachment of Sir Warren Hastings, who was the director of the company, the overseer of its operations in India, for many abuses, physical cruelty displayed towards Indians among them.
You have a quote from Edmund Burke, the opening of his impeachment in 1788 of Warren Hastings, “The East India Company became that thing which was supposed by the Roman law so unsuitable. The same power was a trader, the same power was a Lord.” Talk about that because he sees the East India Company, it has a monopoly on trade in India. Burke says that’s just because it’s in this new exotic market, it should deserve a degree of protection. But then it proceeds by accumulating power to itself, accumulating the economies, local economies in India, to itself, destroying them and their own internal workings and then taking them over, and then also having this sort of quasi governmental power. And Burke opposes all of this, maybe just give us a broader understanding of that.
Gregory Collins (27:48):
So Burke did defend the East India Company charter because he thought… Especially in this time, we have to remember that international trade was still a novel phenomenon, and so there was great risk in trading in foreign lands. If no other reason, that there’s great physical risk in trading these lands in which you held limited amount of knowledge and experience in trading in these different territories. So for Burke, he defended the East India Company Charter for the purpose of promoting the commercial interests of the British empire.
The problem for Burke, the East India Company in a series of victories in 1750 to 1760, including the Treaty of Allahabad, 1765, aggrandized the powers of the East India Company so that now they did not simply hold a commercial power to trade in India, but also, they acquired the powers of war and peace, revenue collection, public administration. And for Burke, this was a disastrous step that fueled the expansion of arbitrary power from the East Indian Company and exacerbated by Warren Hastings. For Burke, the East Indian Company now was not simply promoting the commercial interests of the British Empire, but they start to intrude on and regulate and dictate the flow of goods within internal Indian markets.
And as they describe in the book, the company ended up establishing monopolies on these Indian markets, which for Burke, read the typical negative disastrous consequences of monopolies, such as price controls, wage controls, the disruption of supply and demand laws, which allowed businesses to reach more participants in an efficient manner. And for Burke, this was representative of the gross maladministration and misconduct of the East India Company. So for Burke, when he seeks the reform of the company in 1783, he does not argue to end the Company Charter. This was actually a different that Adam Smith.
Burke also supported what we typically today consider to be free trade, free trade between England and Ireland, free trade between England and the Americans. Americans and the Caribbean British traders as well. So as I try to explain the book, Burke supported free trade within this context under this imperial British umbrella that was governed by the Navigation Acts.
What he does argue is that it’s harder to recover its initial commercial purpose of trading for commercial aims in India while gradually loosening its control over local Indian markets and it was also being held accountable with the board in London. And for Burke, this would allow the East Indian Company to recover its commercial integrity while also relieving the Indians of the miseries that were encouraged by the company. And this is also reflected as part of imperial, political and economic thought, that the Brits… there has been running a debate about whether Burke was a defender of empire or was a critic of empire. And many of the argument is between them on both sides.
But this still represented Burke’s broad imperial, political and economic thought, that the British Empire did have a right in his judgment, due to a series of treaties and military victories with local rulers, to remain in India. But they also had the moral responsibility to act with the devil at hand, and therefore, preserve the internal liberties, customs and traditions of the Indian people. And for him, the East Indian Company disrupted these traditions by extending its power of the local Indian communities. I will say that he wrote a number of reports on the political economy of India. I mentioned I discussed one report at length in the book called the Ninth Report of Select Committee. This in many ways was even more of a passive objective analysis of the economic implications of the East India Company in India. This was written for public consumption, it has more of a neutral tone than the sort of the passionate pros of Thoughts and Details of Scarcity
Richard Reinsch (31:05):
It seems there are similarities when it comes to the empire and how the mother country relates to the colonies. You write at length about North America and Britain’s possessions and the West Indies or the Caribbean. And Burke at length seems to be defending something like free trade. He’s defending it for… He says, “This will be good for us. It’ll be good for the colonies. It will help them to continue on their course of growth. And so we should loosen restrictions on their trade.” While at the same time, he does favor the Navigation Acts, which you can enlighten us on that.
Gregory Collins (31:41):
Richard Reinsch (31:41):
In my understanding, it requires them at least to sell first to the mother country and to receive goods from England also. And then also when it comes down to the great debate for American independence, he defends the right of the empire to regulate internal affairs of the North American colonies, but says, “You really shouldn’t do it. Not that often, not without a clear overwhelming reason.” And he does that, I think, not from an ideological perspective, as you note, he does it because he thinks in the circumstance and the time, this is an approach that will yield the best results for everyone involved, including the empire.
Gregory Collins (32:22):
Yeah, absolutely. And first start off by saying that I start writing the book, and scholars, everyone, a lot of people today tend to read 20th and 20th century conceptions of free trade mercantilism, these classifications into prior time periods, when… In my research in this time period, these distinctions weren’t as rigid as we make them out to be today, which is why this question about whether Burke… Extend this the question to Adam Smith also. The extent to which they supported free trade versus mercantilist policies.
Take Burke for example, as you mentioned, he defended the Navigation Acts, which were considered the heart of mercantilism. They were the series of trade laws dating back to the 17th century, the modern law dating back to the 17th century that restricted the flow of goods within the British empire. And the goods had to be in an English man crews, English vessels, they had to go from English ports before going to foreign markets. And so this was a monopoly on the international colonial economy of the British Empire.
But Burke also supported what we typically today consider to be free trade, free trade between England and Ireland, free trade between England and the Americans. Americans and the Caribbean British traders as well. So as I try to explain the book, Burke supported free trade within this context under this imperial British umbrella that was governed by the Navigation Acts. So I’ll leave it to the reader the judge, to what extent does that mean he was a free trader versus a mercantilist. But his thoughts show that you could accommodate these two different strands of thought on trade policy during that time period, even Adam smith himself defended the Navigation Acts.
Richard Reinsch (33:55):
Yes, he did. That’s right.
Gregory Collins (33:56):
The older forms of Navigation Acts because it’s a famous line, “Defense is much more important than opulence.” And this actually captures Burke’s ways with regard to the Navigation Acts, that yes, in some ways they restricted the flow of commerce, but they also supported the national security interests of the British Empire. And, people don’t realize, they also promoted the commercial interests of the British Empire as well. If you have the Navigation Acts, then you are assured that the transport of commerce, transport of goods will be on ships that won’t attack you, as opposed to trading with ships of foreign enemies that may threaten the transfer of your goods and of your trade. And so there’s a national security interest. There’s also a commercial economic interest in the Navigation Acts as well. Now, for Smith, Burke also thought that the later iterations of the Navigation Acts were economically counterproductive.
Richard Reinsch (34:44):
Here towards the end of our time, Edmund Burke and Adam Smith or Edmund Burke and the Scottish Enlightenment, and the Scottish Enlightenment would say markets provide their own internal reasons for their continuation and will guide people to participate in them successfully, peaceably, prosperously, Edmund Burke disagreed with that. We have now moved forward from that period, from that debate. And that debate sort of continues. Who do you think was right?
Gregory Collins (35:13):
I’m sympathetic to Burke’s arguments. I will also say, however, that I think sometimes descriptions of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers tend to read libertarianism, a little too much libertarianism, Smith himself praised the landed aristocracy in The Wealth of Nations.
Richard Reinsch (36:09):
Gregory, thank you so much for your time. Wish you the best of success with this book, Commerce and Manners and Edmund Burke’s Political Economy. This has been wonderful. Thank you.
Gregory Collins (36:18):
Great. Thank you very much.