Mountifort Longfield, 1802-1884.

Irish lawyer, judge and the first holder of  the Whately Chair in Political Economy at Trinity College, Dublin

The son of an Anglican vicar of the same name in Desert McGee County Cork, Ireland. Mountifort Longfield was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating as a gold medallist in science (nt) in 1823.  He was elected a fellow of TCD in 1825.  He was called to the Irish bar in 1828, but did not practice.  In residence, Longfield received his M.A. in 1829, and proceeded to take a law degree, earning his LL.D. in 1831. 

The former Oxford economist Richard Whately arrived in late Ireland in 1831, to assume his new position as Archbishop of Dublin.  Whately promptly contacted the directors of  Trinity College, Dublin.with a proposal to endow a chair in political economy on a similar model as the Drummond Chair at Oxford, but with the condition that he (Whately) gets to pick the holder.  The university authorities balked at the intrusion, but after some negotiation, it was agreed that the the university authorities would pick the final name from a short-list of three candidates selected by Whately from a competitive examination. 

Despite having no evident background in economics (at the time he was an assistant to Phiilip Crampton, a professor of Medieval English law), Mountiford Longfield submitted to the competitive examinations in July 1832.  His answers evidently pleased Whately, who handpicked Longfield as his candidate.  Mountiford Longfield was inaugurated as the first Whately Professor of Political Economy in October 1832.

Mountiford Longfield began delivering his economic lectures in the Fall of 1832..  In 1834,  Longfield was appointed Regius Professor in Feudal and English Law (also at Trinity College Dublin).  Longfield's formally resigned as Whately chair in 1836.  He was succeeded by Isaac Butt.

Longfield published nineteen of his Whately lectures - the Lectures on Political Economy (1834), which were the nine lectures he delivered in the Spring and Fall of 1833, were dedicated to value and distribution and are arguably his most theoretically accomplished and original work.    The second set of lectures were the Four Lectures on Poor Laws, delivered in the Spring of 1834 .  The third and final set of lectures (primarily on international trade) were published as Three Lectures on Commerce and One on Absenteeism, were delivered in the Fall of 1834, just before Longfield's resignation.

Longfield's lectures were an astounding performance. Longfield presents a an almost complete proto-marginalist theory of value and distribution, in opposition to the Classical Ricardian theory, asserting supply-and-demand as the joint determinants of value.  He also presented a methodological discussion very much in line with Whately's own views. Longfield among the first to recognize that the principle of diminishing marginal productivity applied generally to factors of production.  Also expanded the principle of comparative advantage in international trade to more than the typical "two-commodity" case.

It is easy to see why Whately picked Longfield - his economics, his methodology and his policy conclusions were very similar to those Whately and Senior had held back at Oxford in previous years, to the point where one cannot help but wonder if Longfield might have received some "assistance" from the Archbishop in their composition.  If nothing else, Longfield almost certainly must have read their lectures in advance, thereby beginning the transplantation of the "Oxford catallactics" school to Dublin.  Longfield's successors in the Whately chair - notably Isaac Butt (1836),  James A. Lawson (1841) and W. Neilson Hancock (1946) - held similar views to Longfield, and so it is not erroneous to call them collectively  the "Oxford-Dublin school" of proto-Marginalists

After 1834, Longfield did not spend much time on economics, concentrating on law (Longfield became a Queen's Counsel in 1842).  But there are a few notable exceptions.   In 1840, Longfield published an anonymous series of articles on the banking question in the Dublin University Magazine, coming out with a version of Overstone's "currency principle".  He mused over the existence of the trade cycle, and even drew the familiar "wave" diagram to illustrate it! 

Longfield was one of the founders of the Dublin Statistical Society in 1847 (later the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland). Upon Archbishop Whately's death in 1863, Longfield succeeded as the DSS's second president . 

Longfield served (alongside Whately) on the 1852-53 Dublin University Reform Commission

At the height of the Irish famine, while serving as Regius professor of English law,  Longfield was appointed to a special government commission to implement the 1849 encumbered estates act, i.e. to oversee the sale and transfer of bankrupted small estates to solvent buyers.  This was a government-sponsored effort to increase the size of farms of Ireland, in the hope this would enable the implementation of agricultural technological improvements and boost productivity.  In 1858, the commission was replaced by a Landed Estates Court, and Longfield was appointed a judge in it.  In 1870, Longfield published an piece via the Cobden Club reviewing the history of land tenure in Ireland, and recommending a a scheme for fixed ten-year tenures or "tenant rights", which would, in case of eviction,  require a landlord to reimburse the evicted tenant for the unutilized period and compensate him for any past improvements.  Longfield's scheme was debated in parliament, but the final Land Act of 1870 limited the cases where it could be claimed.

Longfield's final contribution to economics was his reflective 1872 article, read before the Dublin Statistical Society, ruminating over the optimal extent of government involvement in the economy.  He ruminates on the possibility of the state getting involved in schemes to improve social welfare, such as education systems and old age pension schemes, so long as it does not have a disincentive effect on labor, or increasing taxes so long as it does not affect savings rates..

Politically involved, Mountifort Longfield was a Whig Liberal and was repeatedly consulted by the Liberal PM William E. Gladstone on Irish matters.  In 1867, Longfield became a  member of the Irish Privy Council.

 

Major Works of Mountifort Longfield

  • Lectures on Political Economy: delivered in Trinity and Michaelmas terms, 1833, 1834. [bk, av]
  • Four Lectures on Poor Laws: Delivered in Trinity Term, 1834. 1834. [bk]
  • Three Lectures on Commerce and One on Absenteeism, delivered in Michaelmas term, 1834, 1835 (preview)
  • [Anon] "Banking and Currency", four parts, 1840, Dublin University Magazine: (vol. 15), Pt. 1 (Jan, p.3), Pt.2 (Feb, p.218), then (vol.16), Pt. 3 (Oct, p.371) an Pt. 4 (Dec, p.611)
  • "Report of the Address on the conclusion of the second session of the Dublin Statistical Society, delivered by Mountiford Longfield, LL.D., Q.C., together with the Report of the Council, read at the annual meeting, 18th June, 1849", 1849, Papers Read Before the Dublin Statistical Society [bk]
  • "Address delivered at the opening of the Ninth Session of the Society", 1855, J of Dublin Statistical Society, p.153
  • "The Tenure of Land in Ireland", 1870, in Cobden Club, Systems of land tenure in various countries  p.1-91  [av] [1881 revised version]
  • "The Limits of State Interference with the Distribution of Wealth in Applying Taxation to the Assistance of the Public", 1872, Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland.(Nov), p.105
  • An Elementary Treatise on Series, 1872

 


HET

 

Resources on Mountiford Longfield

  • "Review of Longfield's Lectures and Martineau's Strikes", 1834, The Athenaeum (May 10),  p.346
  • "Political Economy", by A.Z. 1834, Dublin University Magazine (Jul), p.33
  • "The New Poor Laws Act" (incl. review of Longfield's Lectures), 1834, Eclectic Review, p.412
  • "Professor Longfield on Absenteeism", 1835, Westminster Review, (v.23)  p.215
  • "Longfield, Mountifort" in R.H. Inglis Palgrave, editor, 1894-1901 Dictionary of Political Economy [1901 ed.]
  • "Longfield, Mountifort"  in Leslie Stephen & Stephen Lee, editor, 1885-901 Dictionary of National Biography [1908-09 ed]entry at Dictionary of National Biography
  • History of Economics at Trinity College, Dublin 
  • "University Officers Dublin", 1834 Quarterly Journal of Education, p.192
  • "Mountifort Longfield, 1802-1884, economist and lawyer", by Alan A. Tait, 1982, Hermathena [pdf]
  • "Mountifort Longfield's appointment to the chair of political economy in Trinity College, Dublin, 1832" by Antoin Murphy, 1983, Hermanthea
  • Wikipedia

 

 

All rights reserved, Gonšalo L. Fonseca
 

Home Alphabetical Index Schools of Thought  Essays & Surveys Contact