Journal Article

The Politics of Consumption and England's Happiness in the Later Seventeenth Century

Paul Slack

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXII, issue 497, pages 609-631
Published in print June 2007 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online June 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cem090
The Politics of Consumption and England's Happiness in the Later Seventeenth Century

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In 1677-8 two anonymous tracts – England's Great Happiness and A Discourse on the benefits of urban growth - forcefully defended economic consumption and social emulation as powerful motors of economic growth. They were the first publications of John Houghton and Nicholas Barbon, and they inaugurated the gradual ‘demoralization of luxury’ in English writings on political economy. This paper explores the circumstances of their publication, the intellectual resources on which they drew, and the trends of thought in Europe as well as England of which they were a part. It stresses the importance of the English political context in shaping their arguments and their reception down to 1700, and concludes that, despite continuing disagreement about the moral, political and economic issues involved, Houghton and Barbon and those sympathetic to their case had a tangible influence on contemporary thinking. By identifying consumer satisfaction with the advance of national well-being and collective happiness, they contributed to a new confidence in England's material progress and national content in the final decades of the seventeenth century.

Journal Article.  11832 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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