Bertrand Russell on Economics, 1889–1918


  • J. E. King La Trobe University



Bertrand Russell was perhaps the last great philosopher to take an active interest in economics. After a brief, youthful engagement with the economics of socialism in 1889, Russell wrote on economic questions in three separate periods up to 1918, and in each case there was a clear political motivation. The first, in 1895–96, arose from his investigation of Marxism as a creed and of German social democracy as its principal contemporary political expression. The second, in 1903–04, was provoked by his intervention on the free trade side of the tariff controversy. Finally, in 1915–18, Russell's commitment to Guild Socialism and to war resistance led him to some profound, if rather speculative, reflections on the economics of libertarian socialism. In this paper I discuss each of these three phases in Russell's economic thought and conclude that he never went far enough in his opposition to neo-classical theory in general, or to its utilitarian foundations in particular.