Keywords: Thomas Hodgskin; Political Economy; Knowledge Problem; Adam Smith; Ricardian Socialism; Population.
In 1827, Thomas Hodgskin found fault with Adam Smith for not having fully accounted for the role of knowledge in economic growth and progress. "His Popular Political Economy" can be considered a manifesto for Hodgskin's laissez faire philosophy. Though revering the Wealth of Nations, Hodgskin stressed population growth and the consequent increase in the availability of ideas and thus innovation as the primary causes of economic progress. He reversed the Malthusian population principle, making an increased population a powerful driver of growth. This paper argues that Hodgskin anticipates some of the key insights of the Austrian economist and political philosopher F.A. von Hayek, particularly the idea that knowledge is dispersed in society and it cannot actually be processed by any single decision making authority. While Hodgskin is typically considered a forerunner of Marxian socialism, this paper claims his thinking fits better with the general framework of the classical liberal tradition. His emphasis on the virtues of dispersed knowledge in society fuelled his suspicion about governments.