Great theoreticians

The most influential economic theoreticians lived in England, which in the eighteenth century overtook the Netherlands as the most important trading nation and launched the first industrial revolution. Bernard de Mandeville, born in the Netherlands, put his ideas to verse in a fable about social progress as the result of personal vices (11). The Scotsman Adam Smith wrote the first complete manual on economics, The Wealth of Nations (12). He – as well as the Englishman of Dutch extraction David Ricardo (13) somewhat later on – devised the free market concept. These authors are jointly regarded as the spiritual progenitors of capitalism and liberalism. This does not mean that they and their adherents ignored the role of the state: theoreticians such as Jean Sismonde de Sismondi from Switzerland and the Englishman John Stuart Mill regarded the state as pivotal in providing public services and protecting workers (14) and women (15-16).

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, two Germans who lived in England for most of their lives, wrote about these ideas but steered them along a different course. Especially after their deaths (i.e. from the late nineteenth century), their influence increased significantly, as their ideas became the foundation for socialism and communism. Das Kapital became one of the best-known – although not one of the most widely read – books in the world (17-19). Marx and Engels propagated an alternative view: a just society should not be ruled by market forces but primarily by the state and ultimately by the producers. This goal was attainable not through intellectual debates and minor reforms but only via a revolution. Their papers are the most celebrated acquisition of the IISH prior to the Second World War.