Thoughts and Details on Scarcity

Miscellaneous Writings. ed. E. J. Payne. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).

Editorial note:

This document is the nearest thing to a formal treatise on economics that Edmund Burke ever wrote. Even so, it was not meant as a full treatment of the subject but was a lengthy memorandum to the Prime Minister, William Pitt, on an immediate question of policy. Burke was alarmed by a project for governmental subsidy of the wages of agricultural laborers during a time of poor harvests. His memorandum was therefore very much an ad hoc document, addressed to a temporary situation.

Burke thought well enough of it, however, to plan to expand it into a fuller work. But in the year and a half that remained of his life, he was a sick and dying man, and more urgently concerned with the folly of British overtures toward peace with Revolutionary France. He never managed to write more than several disjointed pages of his proposed economic treatise, and the memorandum was not published until after his death, by his literary executors, French Laurence and Walker King.

They had it published in 1800 with a lengthy preface by themselves. It is included here for their explanation of the circumstances in which Burke wrote the memorandum and of their editing and interpolation in Burke’s text of the fragments of his planned expansion of it that they found among his papers.

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