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History of science

"His textbook" Principles of Political Economy "(1848) was a standard work of economics for a long time, the essay" On Liberty "(1859) earned him the reputation of one of the greatest philosophers of his time. Marx, the bourgeois capitalist" vulgar economists " Otherwise brutally abused, Mill even paid a certain amount of respect. Even at the young age of 23 or 24, as the five essays that have now been re-edited show, Mill tackled some of the most delicate questions in economics at the time with a crystal clear analytical mind and gave further answers.

The most exciting reading is the essay on free trade and the distribution of the profits from it - a topic that is again hotly debated in times of intensified globalization. According to David Ricardo, the free exchange of goods between two countries offers clear economic advantages even if one country produces significantly more expensively than the other; it is crucial that everyone concentrates on their relative strengths, the comparative cost advantage. Both sides benefit from trading.

Ricardo, however, said nothing about the distribution of the profits. In his essay, Mill groped his way to the theory developed in the "Principles" that the price elasticity of import demand - so the modern expression - determines the exchange ratio and thus the distribution of the welfare gain. This finding was arguably Mill's most original contribution to economic theory. With simple calculations - mostly using the example of trade between England and Germany - Mill showed that protective tariffs reduce the welfare of the "protected" country.

In other essays, Mill thought about consumption and production, profit and interest, and the distinction between "productive" and "unproductive" economic activities. Economics had worked on this question since the Physiocrats; Mill took over the problematic work value theory from Smith, but weakened some of its contradictions. For today's reader, the nuanced argumentation and the innovative nature of Mill's positions are often not easy to understand. This is where the comments of the German publisher Hans G. Nutzinger and his assistants from 1975, including the current Daimler supervisory board chairman Manfred Bischoff, help.

Overall, the early essays underline the importance of Mill, whom Nutzinger wants to see as a pioneer of a "liberal socialism" because Mill wanted to separate the question of the distribution of wealth from its production in his "Principles". In his younger years Mill was clearly part of the liberal school of thought, later he discovered a certain sympathy for socialist ideas.