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Philip H. Wicksteed

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Philip H. Wicksteed

Philip Wicksteed
Born (1844-10-25)25 October 1844
Died 18 March 1927(1927-03-18) (aged 82)
Nationality Great Britain
Field Economics
Alma mater University College, London
Manchester New College
Influences Henry George
William Stanley Jevons
Influenced Joseph Schumpeter
Henry Hazlitt
Murray Rothbard

Philip Henry Wicksteed (25 October 1844 – 18 March 1927) is known primarily as an economist. He was also an English Unitarian theologian, classicist, medievalist, and literary critic.

Family background

He was the son of Charles Wicksteed (1810-1885) and his wife Jane (1814-1902), and was named after his distant ancestor, Philip Henry (1631 – 1696), the Nonconformist clergyman and diarist.[1]

His father was a clergyman within the same tradition of English Dissent. His mother was born into the Lupton family, a socially progressive, politically active dynasty of businessmen and traders, long established in Leeds, a city both prosperous and squalid with the rapid growth of the Industrial Revolution. In 1835 Wicksteed had taken up the ministry of the Unitarian place of worship, Mill Hill Chapel, right on the city's central square, and two years later the couple married. In 1841 his sister Elizabeth married Jane's brother Arthur (1819-1867), also a Unitarian minister; Uncle Arthur was, according to a family history, "The Achilles of the Leeds Complete Suffrage Association"[2]- in other words, atragic champion of the fight for universal suffrage; see Chartism and Henry Vincent for more on the CSA. One of their children, a first cousin to Philip, was the maverick MP and mining engineer Arnold Lupton. Jane was described as impractical but accomplished (sketching, painting, reciting poetry, etc.) and both the Wicksteed siblings as "Unitarians of vigorous mind and keen intelligence".[2]

Philip was one of nine children, including Janet, who wrote, as Mrs Lewis, a memoir including her parents; (Joseph) Hartley, president of theInstitute of Mechanical Engineers;[3] and Charles, also an engineer, who bequeathed to the people of Kettering the park named after his family.[4] One of his nieces was Mary Cicely Wicksteed, who married the prominent Australian surgeon Sir Hibbert Alan Stephen Newton (1887-1949)[5]


Wicksteed was educated at University College, London and Manchester New College, the seminary for nonconformist ministers. In 1867 he received his master's degree with a gold medal in classics. Following his father into the Unitarian ministry that year, Wicksteed embarked on an extraordinarily broad range of scholarly and theological explorations.

His theological and ethical writings continued long after he left the pulpit (in 1897), and appear to have been a starting point for many of his other fields of scholarly inquiry. These included his interest in Dante, which not only produced a remarkable list of publications, but also built Wicksteed's reputation as one of the foremost medievalists of his time. It was Wicksteed's theologically driven interest in and concern for the ethics of modern commercial society, with its disturbing inequalities of wealth and income, which appear to have led him into his economic studies (following on his reading of Henry George's 1879 Progress and Poverty).

Perhaps it was just by circumstance that economics entered Wicksteed's field of scholarly vision, as only one of a number of areas of his interest (to most of which he was committed for years before he began his economics) and in the middle of the fourth decade of his life. This led Joseph Schumpeter to remark that Wicksteed “stood somewhat outside of the economics profession”.

Yet, within a few years Wicksteed was to publish significant economic work of his own, carefully expounding on the theory he learned from William Stanley Jevons, and to become for many years a lecturer on economics for the University of London extension lectures (a kind of adult education program initiated in the 1870s to extend “the teaching of the universities, to serve up some of the crumbs from the university tables, in a portable and nutritious form, for some of the multitude who had no chance of sitting there”).

In 1894, Wicksteed published his celebrated An Essay on the Co-ordination of the Laws of Distribution, in which he sought to prove mathematically that a distributive system which rewarded factory owners according to marginal productivity would exhaust the total product produced. But it was his 1910 The Common Sense of Political Economy which most comprehensively presents Wicksteed's economic system. The 1932 work by Lionel Robbins, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science, picked up and developed his ideas.

He married Emily Solly,[6] a daughter of Henry, a Unitarian minister and social reformer.[7] The library of University College London contains correspondence between Emily and Maria Sharpe Pearson, the wife of Karl Pearson.[8]



- reprinted in 1933, L. Robbins, ed., Clifton NJ: Augustus M. Kelley Publishers
  • ____ (1955) The Alphabet of Economic Science, New York City NY: Kelley & Millman, Inc.
  • ____ (1914). “The Scope and Method of Political Economy in the Light of the ‘Marginal’ Theory of Value and Distribution”, Economic Journal, 24(94), pp. 1–23 (reprinted in Wicksteed, 1933).

External links

  • The Common Sense of Political Economy, Vol. II

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