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Classical economics asserts that markets function best without government interference. It was developed in the late 18th and early 19th century by Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, and John Stuart Mill.
- Alongside their work on pure economic theory, the classical political economists engaged in a parallel project: to promote the forcible reconstruction of society into a purely market-oriented system. ... Most people in Britain did not enthusiastically engage in wage labor—at least so long as they had an alternative. To make sure that people accepted wage labor, the classical political economists actively advocated measures to deprive people of their traditional means of support. ... Perhaps because so much of what the classical economists wrote about traditional systems of agricultural production was divorced from the seemingly more timeless remarks about pure theory, later readers have passed over such portions of their works in haste. ... I argue that these interventionist recommendations were a significant element in the overall thrust of their works. Specifically, classical political economy advocated restricting the viability of traditional occupations in the countryside to coerce people to work for wages.
- Michael Perelman, The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation (2000), pp. 2-3
- The classical economists were brilliant and creative minds who, if reborn among us today, would soon forge to the peak of our profession. But they lived in early times and had no access to the scientific knowledge and know-how that has accumulated over the centuries. Therefore, a modern graduate student is expected to improvise a more accurate account of the incidence of export subsidies than any classical writer ever managed to fabricate. In order to adjudicate the merits of the Ricardo and Smith litigants, I ought first to sketch a tolerably accurate, modern account of the incidence process.
- Paul A. Samuelson, "The Overdue Recovery of Adam Smith's Reputation as an Economic Theorist", in M. Rey (ed.,), Adam Smith's Legacy (1992)
- In general the claim can be supported that a view of classical political economy as committed to extreme laissez-faire or unmitigated economic individualism misrepresents or at the very least analytically overgeneralizes their circumscribed theoretical and practical aims. In general then, with regard to both political and economic liberty, the classical political economists might be seen to be united in their efforts to theorize and systematize the productive and allocating functions of the mechanism of the market as the most efficient means to engender the growth of wealth. At the same time, classicals such as Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, and Mill recognized that the market, of necessity, operated in a larger context of restriction – not only legal, but equally as important, within political, religious, moral, and conventional restrictions – which could not be readily or in some cases even desirably overcome.
- Shannon C. Stimson, "Classical Political Economy", in Coole, Diana H.; Gibbons, Michael; Ellis, Elisabeth et al., The encyclopedia of political thought (2014)