Longfield, Samuel Mountifort
Longfield, Samuel Mountifort
Samuel Mountifort Longfield (1802–1884), the Irish jurist, had only a brief career as a professional economist; he was the first occupant of the chair of political economy at Trinity College, Dublin, that Richard Whately founded when he was made archbishop of Dublin. Longfield held this professorship from 1832 to 1836 and then resigned to pursue a legal career.
It was in 1903 that Edwin R. A. Seligman (1915) drew attention to Longfield by referring to him as a “neglected” economist, and indeed he appears to have been virtually unread outside Ire-land until then. His work certainly deserved belated recognition, even though it had not become part of the mainstream of economic thought, for in some aspects of that work, he was thirty—even sixty—years ahead of his time.
In establishing the determinants of value, Long-field emphasized cost of production as one determinant, and had a rudimentary conception of the importance of diminishing marginal utility of demand as the other determinant. Thus he spoke of price as indicating what the buyer with the least intense demand was willing to pay. The distribution of income, like diminishing marginal utility, was for Longfield a marginal problem—that of productivity. He enunciated a nicely symmetrical theory of factor payments, in the course of which he denied the importance of the cost of subsistence for the level of wages. He asserted that the wage rate was governed instead by that unit of labor applied least efficiently in the production of any given quantity of a commodity. Nonetheless, like most of his contemporaries, Longfield rejected Malthusian population theory as determining the necessary cost of production of labor, asserting that “.. . to find out what is the cost of production of common labourers, appears to be a trifling with a serious subject” (1834b, pp. 202-203).
The cost of capital is the cost of sacrificing present commodities for future ones, and in suggesting the idea of the productivity of roundabout production, Longfield may well, as Seligman points out (1915, p. 113), have sketched a theory of interest that combined time preference and the productivity of capital. But again it was the most disadvantageously used machine—that is to say, the least productive—that determined the rate of interest. In the area of allocation theory Longfield did interesting work in the concept of comparative advantage. This and, even more, the marginalist aspects of his economic analysis may well be connected with the fact that Longfield had always been an able mathematician and in 1872 even published An Elementary Treatise on Series (Black 1947, p. 53).
It was consistent with his rejection of Malthus that Longfield did not share the gloom of some of the English classical school concerning economic evolution, and believed that technological improvements in agriculture could more than offset the effects of population increase. He not only advocated that Ireland be industrialized but also predicted that industrialization would over time result in such an increase in capital that the rate of profits would fall and the productivity, hence the real wage, of labor would rise.
Longfield was president of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland from 1863 to 1867, but made few contributions to its proceedings. In a paper to the society (1872b), he appears to have supported the idea of government intervention in economic matters, advocating pensions for the blind and the aged, state education, medical care regardless of demonstration of need, housing control, and state-provided clubrooms for workers.
[For the historical context of Longfield’s work, see the biography of Malthus. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, see especially Wages, article on Theory; see also CAPITAL.]
1834a Four Lectures on Poor Laws. Dublin: Curry. (1834b) 1931 Lectures on Political Economy. Series of Reprints of Scarce Tracts on Economic and Political Science, No. 8. London School of Economics and Political Science.
(1835) 1938 Three Lectures on Commerce and One on Absenteeism. Series of Reprints of Scarce Works on Political Economy, No. 4. London School of Economics and Political Science.
1872a An Elementary Treatise on Series. Dublin.
1872b The Limits of State Interference with the Distribution of Wealth, in Applying Taxation to the Assistance of the Public. Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland 6:105.
Black, R. D. COLLISON 1945 Trinity College, Dublin, and the Theory of Value, 1832–1863. Economica New Series 12:140–148.
Black, R. D. Collison 1947 A History of the Society. Pages 1-47 in the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, Dublin, Centenary Volume, 1847–1947. Dublin: Eason.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1954 History of Economic Analysis. Edited by E. B. Schumpeter. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Seligman, Edwin R. A. (1915) 1925 An Economic Interpretation of the War. Pages 161–179 in Edwin R. A. Seligman (editor), Essays in Economics. New York: Macmillan. → First published in Seligman’s Problems of Readjustment After the War, 1915.
Viner, Jacob 1932 The Doctrine of Comparative Costs. Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv 36:356–414.
Viner, JACOB 1933 Samuel Mountifort Longfield. Volume 9, pages 605–606 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.
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