Stuart Mill Different Stationary State

A Different Stationary State

Mill's eclecticism and the humanism he brought to economics are nowhere better reflected than in his discussion of the long-run tendencies of the economy. Even though the empirical evidence was to the contrary, Mill stayed with the basic Ricardian model that predicted falling rates of profit and the stationary state. But Mill's stationary state was not the dismal one that Ricardo envisioned. In contrast to nearly all orthodox economists up to the present, Mill was not certain whether a nation with a growing economy, such as the England of his times, was a desirable place in which to live. Mill found reprehensible many aspects of a prosperous, growing economy, such as the "trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other's heels."18 In a famous chapter on the stationary state, Mill took a critical view of his own society and outlined his hopes for the future. Individual happiness, well-being, and improvement were Mill's criteria for a good society, and he clearly indicated that these things are not necessarily measured in material goods. Nor were growth of output and growth of popula­tion good in and of themselves. According to Mill, a stationary state might be a highly desirable society, as the pace of economic activity would decrease and more attention would be focused on the individual and his or her noneconomic and economic well-being. "It is only in the backward countries of the world that increased production is still an important object: in those most advanced, what is economically needed is a better distribution."

Mill wanted to see a slowing of population growth in order to increase per capita income and to reduce population density. Growing population had made it difficult for people to find solitude or to enjoy the beauty of nature. In Mill's stationary state, a gentler, less materialistic culture exists. A redistribution of income has occurred, and a reorientation of values ensures that "while no one is poor, no one desires to be richer, nor has any reason to fear being thrust back by the efforts of others to push themselves forward."20 Finally, Mill hoped that the stationary state would result in an improvement in the art of living, which, he believed, had a stronger "likelihood of its being improved, when minds ceased to be engrossed by the art of getting on."21 He looked at the society and economy of his time and asked whether technological development had really reduced human toil and drudgery. Although increased production had improved the lot of the middle classes and made large fortunes for some, Mill found the mass of society bypassed by the fruits of the Industrial Revolution and felt that his stationary state might bring about a good society.