The BABBAGE Pages: Political Economy

Footnotes: Babbage: pioneer economist by Nathan Rosenberg

  1. Charles Babbage's On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, fourth edition, 1835 reprinted by Frank Cass & co a London, 1963, p. 191. All further references to On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures will mention only the page number of the 1963 edition.

  2. See the valuable biography by Anthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer, Princeton University Press, Princeton (NJ), 1982.

  3. Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, Oxford University Press, New York 1954, pa 541.

  4. Mark Blaug, Economic Theory in Retrospect, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, third edition. 1978. p. 198.

  5. For further discussion of the context in which Babbage came to write this book, see Hyman, Charles Babbage, chapter 8.

  6. see Babbage's discussion of the Navy Board's contract to make iron tanks for ships. Maudslay at first was reluctant to take the contract because it was "out of his line of business" but also because the holes for the large number of rivets ordinarily involved an expensive hand-punching process. The Navy Board subsequently offered a larger contract which Maudslay accepted because it then became worthwhile to introduce specialised tools. bathe magnitude of the order made it worth his while to commence manufacture, and to make tools for the express business (p. 121). Babbage's italics.

  7. see chapter 12, "On the Method of Observing Manufactories."

  8. At the same time, Babbage urged the undertaking of statistical estimation in order to improve decision-making within the business community: "The importance of collecting data, for the purpose of enabling the manufacturer to ascertain how many additional customers he will acquire by a given reduction in the price of the article he makes, cannot be too strongly pressed upon the attention of those who employ themselves in statistical ` inquiries" (p. 120). Babbage was the founder of the London Statistical Society.

  9. Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, volume s in The Works of Charles Babbage William Pickering, London, 1989, p. 328.

  10. Babbage also adds, as a separate point, that greater division of labor will lead to reduced. waste of materials in the learning process, and a consequent reduction in the cost and the price of the product (p. 171).

  11. Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776; Modern Library Reprint, New York, 1937, p. 8

  12. Adam Smuth, Lectures on Justice, Police. Revenue and Arms, reprinted by Kelley, & Millman, New York, 1963, p. 166.

  13. See, in particular, Babbage's analysis of the impact of the introduction of machinery upon employment in chapter 32, "On the Effect of Machinery in Reducing the Demand for Labour."

  14. Smith, Wealth of Nations, p. 10. For a more extensive treatment of Smith's views on this subject, see Nathan Rosenberg, "Adam Smith and the Division of Labor: Two Views or One?" Economica, 57, no. 3 (May 1965).

  15. Pp. 233-234. Babbage's italics. See also pp. 158-159.

  16. Chapter 35, "Inquiries Previous to Commencing Any Manufactory."

  17. P.286. For a discussion of the complexity of the decision-making process when technological change is not only rapid, but is anticipated to continue to be rapid in the future, see Nathan Rosenberg, "On Technological Expectations," Economic Journal (September 6); reprinted as chapter 5 in Rosenberg, Inside the Black Box.

  18. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1961, p. 405, footnote 1.

  19. Ibid., especially footnote 2.

  20. ibid., vol. III, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1959, p. 103. See also Chapter 5 below, pp. 95-97

  21. Chapter 34, "On the Exportation of Machinery."

  22. P.376. Babbage's italics. Substantially the same point is made several pages later. ` The fact that England can, notwithstanding her taxation and her high rate of wages, actually undersell other nations, seems to be well established: and it appears to depend on the superior goodness and cheapness of those raw materials of machinery the metals, - on the excellence of the tools, - and on the admirable arrangements of the domestic economy of our factories.' (p 374).

  23. The decimal system was, of course, adopted in France but not in England. Babbage points out the advantages of the decimal system in facilitating monetary calculations, and observes that sit becomes an interesting question to consider whether our own currency Most not be converted into one decimally divided. The great step, that of abolishing the guinea, has already been taken without any inconvenience, and but little is now required to adder the change complete" (p. 124). Babbage's countrymen were, of course, to wait for m<<e than a century before acquiring the conveniences of this conversion. For other purposes, such as measurement of length and weight, they are still waiting.

  24. Pp. 387-388. Babbage's italics. It is interesting to note that, in the very next paragraph Babbage anticipates precisely the question that so troubled Jevons several decades later in his book, The Coal Question, Macmillan and co. London,1865. Babbage recognizes the threat posed to a society increasingly dependent upon the power of steam, that "the coal-mines of the world may ultimately be exhausted." Nevertheless, with the growth of knowledge he appears to be confident that substitute sources of power will be found. He identifies one possibility upon which research is presently being conducted in the United Kingdom: tidal power. "(T)he sea itself offers a perennial source of power hitherto almost unapplied. The tides, twice in each day, raise a vast mass of water, which might be made available for driving machinery (p. 388).

  25. the importance of this insight cannot be overstated, for the rise of the large manufacturing enterprise is central to the arguments of both Marx and Schumpeter. For a further discussion, see chapters 3 and 5 below.

  26. Although Babbage does not make it clear why such a worker needs to be in constant attendance so long as the machines are above some minimal threshold of reliability

  27. Mill's treatment of the specific issue of the division of labor, although coming almost three quarters of a century after Adam Smith. constituted no substantial improvement over Smith's treatment. As Blaug observes of Mill's Principles of Political Economy: "Book I chapter 8, on the division of labor, adds little to Adam Smith's treatment and may be passed over without loss, Economic Theory in Retrospect, p. 198.

  28. Mill, Principles, p. 132

  29. Marx. Capital, p.376.

  30. See also Babbage, Economy of Machinery. p. 12, and Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, pp. l32-133.

Maintainer & date: October 24, 1996