John Atkinson Hobson

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Hobson, John Atkinson (1858–1940). An economist with views that were unconventional for his time, and led him—he claimed—to be blackballed from academic posts. He earned his living therefore through part-time lecturing, journalism, and writing too many books. Two of those books however launched revolutions: The Physiology of Industry (1889), written in collaboration with the mountaineer A. F. Mummery, which undermined laissez-faire economics by arguing that its tendency was to over-produce; and Imperialism: A Study (1902), which attributed the militaristic colonial expansionism of that time to the resultant surpluses of goods and capital. In this way he can be said to have sown the seeds of two of the most powerful ideologies of the 20th cent.: Keynesian economics, and the Leninist interpretation of imperialism. He also contributed importantly to contemporary politics, especially the evolution of a ‘New’ kind of Liberalism around 1900 to replace the old. Later he dedicated himself to the cause of internationalism.

Bernard Porter

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John Atkinson Hobson, 1858–1940, English economist and journalist. He achieved wide popularity as a lecturer and writer. Criticizing classical economics, which centered on man's mechanical response to inflexible economic laws, he held that economic theory was bound up with the ethical problems of social welfare and should be a guide to reform. The economic measures he supported prefigured the more fully developed ideas of John Maynard Keynes. Hobson advocated partial socialization, and in Imperialism (1902) he interpreted imperialism as a product of the economic excesses of capitalism. His other works include The Evolution of Modern Capitalism (1894), The Economics of Distribution (1900), The Economics of Unemployment (1922), and the autobiographical Confessions of an Economic Heretic (1938).

See H. N. Brailsford, The Life-Work of J. A. Hobson (1948).

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