U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Corey Robin on the Late Burke and the Problem of Value

Readers of this blog, especially those with an interest in the history of economic thought, will want to check out friend-of-the-blog Corey Robin’s new piece in Raritan, “Edmund Burke and the Problem of Value.”  For the moment, at least, it’s unpaywalled and available online.[1] Corey sees three late writings of Burke – A Letter to a Noble Lord, Letters on a Regicide Peace, and Thoughts on Scarcity – as putting forward a novel, if ambivalent, theory of value that is at odds with Adam Smith’s labor theory of value that dominated late 18th-century political economy. Burke shifts between arguing the market itself determines value and suggesting that capitalists unilaterally determine it, a tension that parallels a broader one in Burke’s thought between a commitment to capitalism and a belief in tradition, order, and hierarchy.  Ultimately, Corey suggests, the dissonance between these two aspects of Burke’s understanding of value would only be resolved by economists of the Austrian School a century later.

[1] Corey tells me that he doesn’t know how long it will stay that way, so you may want to download it now.  If you somehow miss it, it’s in Volume 36, Number 1, Summer 2016, pp. 82-106.