The Empire Strikes Back: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and the Robust Political Economy of Empire

47 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2013

See all articles by Christopher J. Coyne

Christopher J. Coyne

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Abigail Hall

University of Tampa; George Mason University

Date Written: February 9, 2013

Abstract

Recent scholarship regarding the idea of a U.S. Empire has raised serious questions as to the feasibility and desirability of imperial ambitions. This paper traces the debate over the net-benefit of empire back to the Classical economists. Adam Smith argued that the British Empire was a net cost while John Stuart Mill concluded the same empire was a net benefit. Contemporary arguments about a U.S. Empire map neatly to the divergent views of Smith and Mill. In addition to engaging in an exercise in history of thought, we use Smith’s political economy as a means of adjudicating between the different claims regarding the feasibility of empire. In doing so, we subject the claims of proponents of American Empire against the standard of robust political economy, which holds that intervention must generate desirable outcomes where less than ideal incentive and epistemic conditions hold. In doing so, we conclude that many of the claims made by proponents are fragile under less than ideal conditions.

Keywords: Empire, Imperialism Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Robust Political Economy

JEL Classification: B0, B10, B21, B31

Suggested Citation

Coyne, Christopher J. and Hall, Abigail, The Empire Strikes Back: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and the Robust Political Economy of Empire (February 9, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2214373 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2214373

Christopher J. Coyne (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.ccoyne.com/

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

HOME PAGE: http://ppe.mercatus.org/scholars/christopher-coyne

Abigail Hall

University of Tampa ( email )

George Mason University ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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