Stamp, Josiah Charles

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Stamp, Josiah Charles



Josiah Charles Stamp, first baron Stamp of Shortlands, Kent (1880-1941), economist and economic adviser to the British government, was born at Bexley, Kent, and entered the British civil service as a clerk at a salary of about $3 a week. For 21 of his 23 years in the civil service he devoted himself to the analysis and development of taxation. The structure of the British income tax that emerged from World War i and was elaborated in the report of the Royal Commission on the Income Tax (Great Britain . . . 1920) is in large measure his achievement.

Because of his lucidity and ability in explaining this complicated instrument of government to industrialists, he was persuaded to become a director of Nobel Industries. So began in 1919 the second phase of his career, the management of corporations. In 1926, when Nobel was bought by Imperial Chemical Industries, he remained as a director of this large-scale enterprise. In addition, he was chairman of the board of the largest railway amalgamation in Great Britain, the London, Midland and Scottish, an officer of a dozen or more financial and educational institutions, and, from 1928, a director of the Bank of England. From 1924 to 1929 he served on the international commissions which developed the Dawes and Young plans for German reparations and in the process evolved the Bank for International Settlements.

From 1935 on, in a third phase of Stamp’s career, the British government increasingly used him as a consultant on economic policy. Typically, he set in motion a rationalization of the statistical services that enabled the various departments, especially the Treasury, to organize the economy speedily for the prosecution of World War n. When war broke out in 1939 he was chief economic adviser to the government. On the night of April 16, 1941, Stamp, his wife, his eldest son, and their domestic staff were in their bomb shelter when the house received a direct hit in an air raid. No one survived.

In his upwardly mobile career, from a minor clerkship to the peerage of England, Stamp personified the Puritan ethic; he was a teetotaler and a nonsmoker, and he was once referred to as the “busiest man in England.” He earned a London University B.SC. in 1911 by examination without ever attending a lecture and a D.SC. in 1916 with a brilliant dissertation on taxation. From 1924 on he published several series of lectures, including a presidential address and sectional addresses to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, all of which give evidence of his continued intellectual growth and production. Honorary degrees, medals, and awards, including a peerage, were given him.

Stamp’s early papers show his grasp of classical economic theory, his capacity to analyze the usage of current terms, his massive work on the illogical structure of the British tax statistics, and his practical judgment concerning those adjustments that would lead to the attainment of tax policy goals with greater efficiency and no loss of total revenue. A major new concept, excess profits, together with convincing arguments for the ethical correctness of taxing them at a higher rate, entered the British tax structure after 1915. These ideas were foreshadowed in an analytical paper by Stamp on unearned income, where he distinguished between two types of economic surpluses: (a) those necessary for the continuation of productive enterprise, and (b) those created by unusual scarcities or demands. He returned to this problem, in 1932, when he first advanced the index of profits. He saw clearly even before 1920 the imperfections of the excess profits duty, although it produced 25 per cent of the revenue during World War I. He also saw that a capital levy in a society with high income taxes would merely be an anticipation of future revenue. In all of these writings, while showing a knowledge of the historical development of the income tax structure and of differences between British principles and those of Europe and the United States, Stamp presented what was principally an analytical and statistical argument, highly technical and adapted closely to the exigencies and idiosyncrasies of Britain’s particular circumstances. With A. L. Bowley and others at the London School of Economics, he developed acceptable methods for calculating the gross national product of the United Kingdom.

Stamp’s contributions to nontechnical economic issues or to general social questions, through his public lectures and addresses to learned societies, aim at clarifying a confused public debate or illustrating the essential complexity of problems that look simple if approached solely from the point of view of economics, statistics, or ethics. In the Calculus of Plenty (1935), a close economic analysis of the concept of “plenty” showed it to mean either (a) physical or scientific potentiality, (b) unused or unmarketed production, or (c) idle capacity—or some combination of these. He deplored the quantification of any one of these three as if it were independent of restraints from the others. “Large dynamic ideas are scientifically dangerous if they remain unmeasured” (see The Calculus of Plenty 1935). By measurement, Stamp meant precision of classification, exactness of the crude figures, and elegance in the derived statistics.

As an economist, Stamp did much to clarify and expand specialized aspects of economic doctrine related to the national income, the national capital, and problems in the economics and ethics of taxation. As a master statistician he provided the tools for economic analysis and theory testing rather than the analyses or the theories.

John Mogey


(1916) 1920 British Incomes and Property: The Application of Official Statistics to Economic Problems . . . With Supplementary Tables From 1914 to 1918. London School of Economics and Political Science, Studies in Economics and Political Science, No. 47. London: King.

(1918-1936) 1937 The National Capital and Other Statistical Studies. London: King. → Contains eight previously published essays.

(1921) 1936 The Fundamental Principles of Taxation in the Light of Modern Developments. Rev. ed. London: Macmillan.

(1922) 1930 Wealth and Taxable Capacity, Being the Newmarch Lectures for 1920-1921 on Current Statistical Problems in Wealth and Industry. 3d ed. London: King.

1924 Studies in Current Problems in Finance and Government and “The Wealth and Income of the Chief Powers” (1914). London: King.

1929 Some Economic Factors in Modern Life. London: King.

1932 Industrial Profits in the Last Twenty Years: A New Index Number. London: Royal Statistical Society. → Presidential address delivered on June 21, 1932. Also published in Volume 95 of the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society.

1934 Eugenic Influences in Economics. Eugenics Review 26:107-119. → The Galton lecture delivered before the Eugenics Society on February 16, 1934.

(1934-1936) 1937 The Science of Social Adjustment. London: Macmillan. → Includes Stamp 1934 and 1935.

1935 The Calculus of Plenty. London: British Science Guild.


Beveridge, William 1941 The Right Hon. Lord Stamp, G.C.B., G.B.E., F.B.A. Nature 147:567-568.

Beveridge, William 1959 Josiah Charles Stamp. Supplement 6, pages 817-820 in Dictionary of National Biography: 1949-1950. Oxford Univ. Press.

Bowley, Arthur Lyon 1941 Lord Stamp. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 104:193-196.

Economics of Plenty. 1935 Nature 136:809-810. → A review of Stamp’s The Calculus of Plenty 1935.

Great Britain, Royal Commission on the Income Tax 1920 Report. Papers by Command, Cmd. 615. London: H.M. Stationery Office.

Henderson, Hubert Douglas 1941 Josiah Charles Stamp, Baron Stamp of Shortlands (June 21, 1880 to April 16, 1941). Economic Journal 51:338-347.

Jones, James Harry 1964 Josiah Stamp, Public Serfant: The Life of the First Baron Stamp of Shortlands. New York and London: Pitman.

Willcox, Walter Francis 1941 Josiah Charles Stamp, 1880-1941. Journal of the American Statistical Association 36:546-547.