Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham in the Australian Colonies

Abstract: How did early colonial Australians think about liberalism, economics and political economy more generally? Colonial Australia has been described variously as having a neoclassical, enlightenment, or Benthamite political culture. This paper provides an empirical approach to the question of early Australian ideas. Exploiting the records of 1,891 book sales and auctions in colonial Australia between 1800 and 1849, the paper examines the relative prevalence of key economic, political, and liberal texts available to colonial Australians. The works of neoclassical authors such as Adam Smith and John Locke were far more prevalent, and more likely in colonial demand, than those of Jeremy Bentham. To the extent utilitarian ideas were prevalent they were in the form of William Paley’s conservatism than Bentham’s radicalism.

Working paper available at SSRN.