Economics, Home Economics,
and Political Economy

John T. Tetley

[Reprinted from The Gargoyle, December, 1962]

A reader of The GARGOYLE asks: "Are Economics, or Home Economics and Political Economy one and the same thing? Will you please publish your answer in your paper next month? I think the answer might be appreciated by many students."

Perhaps others have experienced, as I did in an opening session of a Henry George school class. The course had been advertised as one in Fundamental Economic Principle; however, at the close of the initial session a young lady student said to me, "I thought this was to be a course in Home Economics."

Economics is an extremely broad subject. The word itself in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is defined - "A -- pertaining to household management." B-l. Housekeeping. 2. The science of household, rural and especially political economy."

Under "Economy" the above mentioned dictionary -- 1. Management of expenditure: originally of household, later of any expenses. 2. Political Economy originally the art of managing the resources of a people and of its government (Adam Smith) later the theoretical science of the laws of production and distribution of wealth (McCulloch) 1767."

Now, if the young lady had a concept of "economics" as being management of the household and considered such to be "Home Economics" she was justified in assuming that which we termed "Fundamental Economic Principles" as being the principles of home economics. Further it might be concluded, accepting the excerpts from the dictionary, that our reader could consider "Home Economics" and "Political Economy" one and the same thing.

However, I believe today, the common usage of "Home Economics" is that which deals with household or home management, and I do not think Home Economists refer to their field as "Economics", but rather use the full term -- Home Economics.

Henry George in his book Science of Political Economy presents a lengthy explanation of the terms Economics and Science of Political Economy. This careful analysis of the terms might well be briefly reviewed here.

George wrote, the word ECONOMY comes from the Greek meaning, house law, or in a wider sense, adaptation of means to an end -- a system by which natural wants are satisfied involving production and distribution.

Political, George said infers a relationship to the body of citizens or state -- the body politic. Political Economy therefore is a particular kind of economy. In the literal meaning of the word it is that kind of economy which has relation to the community or state; to the social whole rather than to individuals.

He went on -- the tendency became to abbreviate and use Economic when Politico Economic is meant. This combined with the confusion of human law, which deals with the body politic and with natural law which deals with the body economic, led to the term Political Economy. The French Physiocrats, said George, used Political Economy to distinguish the branch of knowledge with which they were concerned, from politics and called themselves Economists.

The confusion which the Physiocrats tried to point out continued at the time George wrote -- the term political economy conveying the impression of a particular kind of politics rather than a particular kind of economy.

The word political implies civil government, human sovereignty, political division, nations. It is not the body politic but the body social or body industrial -- the body economic -- the whole of civilization with which the Science of Economics is concerned. So, suppose we leave "political" put of Economics, and leave Economics out of politics. Then we may segregate "Economics" -- "Home Economics" - and "Political Science" or "Science of Politics".