chapter  9
37 Pages

From ruminators to pioneers: Dutch economics textbooks and their authors in the nineteenth and early twentieth century


As Guidi and Augello have remarked, the study of early textbooks of economics raises some conceptual problems. The very existence of textbooks presupposes the existence of a curriculum or a canon of scholarship. Now the first professors and teachers of economics were largely self-taught and spread the gospel of Smith, Say and Ricardo. Sometimes they grasped the research programme of these pioneers, sometimes they did not. If at all, most of them had been raised in a tradition – such as cameralism – of primarily describing economic activities and institutions. In the Netherlands, some economists believed in the universal character of economic laws. Others still thought that national characteristics were an important element in explaining economic development. In an international comparison, there is a marked difference between countries where political economy was considered to be a tool of political liberalism (and therefore a suspect or even subversive science), and those where it was seen as the science of modernity. The Netherlands belonged to the latter category, and accordingly offered the paradoxical example of a nation lacking theoretical innovation while at the same time demonstrating a broad early academic institutionalisation of the subject. Before 1830 economics was taught in all faculties of law. But it took much longer before an original Dutch textbook was produced. All through the nineteenth century, academic economics was political economy. Business and management studies were first taught in higher education with the founding of the Netherlands High School of Economics in 1913 in Rotterdam. Further international comparison may offer an explanation for the diverse developments of general economics and business studies. In the Netherlands, general economics was admitted as an academic subject in the early nineteenth century. For public servants, educated in the law faculties, knowledge of economics was considered indispensable, while for practical merchants a secondary education and practical experience were seen as sufficient training. In her dissertation (1969), Irene Hasenberg Butter has examined the academic regulations concerning the new subject of political economy. It is her conclusion

that the place of economics in the law faculties and the requirement of the use of Latin in universities functioned as important barriers to the growth of the new discipline (Hasenberg Butter 1969: 35). Twenty years later, Hans Boschloo in his dissertation has convincingly demonstrated what really happened in the universities, by researching the early chairs and courses of economics and by listing the number of dissertations in law that were in fact Ph.D.s in economics. The recent dissertation of Wim Coster on Sloet (2008) fills a gap by describing the popularising efforts of this country squire through his one man journal. The first lectures bearing the name of Staathuishoudkunde (Economy of the State – the old Dutch equivalent of Political Economy) were taught privately by Professor Kluit in Leyden when he was suspended from his chair in the years 1795-1802. But according to Boschloo this really was no more than a traditional course of ‘statistics’ i.e. a description of affairs of the state (Boschloo 1989: 257). In 1802 Kluit was restored in office. He was killed in the gunpowder ship explosion of 1807, which destroyed many lives and buildings. One of King Louis Napoleon’s measures to compensate the city for its losses was the official founding of a chair in political economy and statistics. But the professor who can with certainty be described as the first to teach separate courses of economics and statistics, was Kluit’s former student H.W. Tydeman. He taught Staathuishoudkunde from 1817 until his retirement in 1848. In political and literary periodicals the idea came forward that the new science of economics was worth every educated citizen’s attention. The lawyer and poet Johannes Kinker, editor of the late Enlightenment magazine De Herkaauwer [The Ruminator], published from 1815 to 1817, clearly understood little of the subject. As to its possible canonisation he concluded:

If Political economy will not take back with one hand what it gave with the other, then it should be driven by a general overview and a summary methodology, in which at least the main subjects are decently arranged; then the governments should become beneficial busy-bodies. And starting with themselves, they will certainly give the best example.