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Class Year

2013

Abstract

John Stuart Mill claimed to be a disciple of both Jeremy Bentham and David Ricardo. This was a strange proclamation because each man advocated a competing theory of value; Bentham’s utilitarianism laid the foundation for the utility theory of value and Ricardo developed the labor theory of value. Mill’s goal in attempting to unify these theories of value was to provide a solution for the growing class conflict that plagued capitalism. Class conflict arose as feudalism was phased out and industrial capitalism replaced merchant capitalism as the dominant economic system. The Corn Laws symbolized this competition between classes. Capitalists were against the Corn Laws because the subsequent tariffs would lower their rate of profit. Landowners supported the Corn Laws because they increased the rent on land. Even Karl Marx held spoke out against the Corn Laws on behalf of the working class. Capitalism fostered persistent antagonism between classes as each struggled to gain or maintain power; no class was immune from this contest. Class conflict was therefore ubiquitous in capitalist society and generated widespread scrutiny and debate over capitalism. Jeremy Bentham and David Ricardo took opposing sides in this debate. Bentham was initially supported it but died a reformist. Class conflict was resolvable but not under the current form of capitalism. Ricardo’s labor theory of value promoted the view that class division occurred naturally in a capitalist society. And since capitalism was the best possible economic system, class division was a necessary evil and could not be remedied. Both Ricardo and Bentham acknowledged that class conflict was inherent in capitalism but each treated it differently. In claiming to be a disciple of both men, Mill hoped to show that capitalism could exist alongside social harmony. His goal was to change the nature of capitalism. [excerpt]

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