Classical Economists in the Face of the Old English Poor Law: Prejudice in Scholarly Clothes




classical economics, Poor Law, work incentives, class prejudices, interest groups


Objective: The purpose of this article is to identify the ideological functions of economic theory using the historical case of the opinions of classical economists on the poor law as an example (treating ideological sets of ideas as justifications for the social order).

Research Design & Methods: The research method adopted in this paper is an analysis of the text carried out in the context of its social function.

Findings: The article analyses some moral and social aspects of the emergence of economic theory and shows classical economists’ criticisms of the Old Poor Law as rationalisation of social prejudices of upper classes of society. The essence of the discourse of mainstream economists has been to show low moral resources in the working class as the cause of poverty, together with the thesis that social assistance perpetuates this condition. The opposite of these theories were John Barton’s arguments, portraying welfare as an investment in the moral resources of the poor, allowing them to return to the ranks of working people. This dispute was forgotten for many years, but seems still relevant in the 21st century context.

Implications / Recommendations: This paper supports the opinions of eminent scholars (like Blaug or Lindert) that the main problems with poverty are essentially the same in our times as in the 19th century. Blaming poor people for their poverty seems as familiar to us today as it was two hundred years ago. Thus the issue of the welfare state is more moral and political than it is theoretical.

Contribution: This paper is a contribution to the identification of the role of social prejudice in the emergence of economic theory.


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How to Cite

Grzybek, D. (2024). Classical Economists in the Face of the Old English Poor Law: Prejudice in Scholarly Clothes. Krakow Review of Economics and Management Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Ekonomicznego W Krakowie, 2(1004), 5-19.