John Hobson Imperialism 1858 1940

John A. Hobson (1858-1940) Imperialism

John Atkinson Hobson was the son of a middle-class family who, like other famous economists, studied at Oxford. After graduation, he started out lecturing in English literature before his interests shifted to economics. Interestingly, because his ideas were considered radical, he lost his position as a lecturer at London University. Even though he was excluded from academic life, Hobson was extremely active as a writer and wrote thirty-seven books. He wrote his most famous book Imperialism: A Study (1902) after being sent by the editor of the Manchester Guardian to South Africa on a study. One of the dominant themes of his writings was the interdependent nature of politics, economics, and ethics (Hobson, 1938).

Hobson eloquently expressed imperialism as "a social parasitic process by which a moneyed interest within the state, usurping the reins of government, makes for imperial expansion in order to fasten economic suckers into foreign bodies so as to drain them of their wealth in order to support domestic luxury" (p. 367).

The way Hobson saw it, imperialism was an outcome of many social forces including nationalism, patriotism, militarism, religious fervor, especially "Christianity and uplifting," and an incessant quest for profit. Imperialism was necessary in order to satisfy the requirements of capitalism to increasingly accumulate capital and invest profits. As domestic markets matured and became saturated, new outlets for investment had to be identified and exploited. Insufficient domestic markets resulted largely because of an imbalance between productive and consumptive spheres due to huge inequalities of income distribution. Wage earners were limited by the magnitude of their income. Furthermore, the rentier or wealthy class was limited in their consumption activities by time, physical capacity to enjoy expenditures, and by their desire and compulsion to invest surplus so as to get more and more profit.

According to Hobson, the chief promoters and controllers of imperialism and foreign investment were financiers and banks. The primary benefactors were those large firms that engaged in building warships and specialized in the manufacture of goods for export and trade.