The Fable of the Bees

25 Oct, 2018 330 Economics

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and his critique of the economy as he found it in London, where private vices were condemned without acknowledging their public benefit. In his poem The Grumbling Hive (1705), he presented an allegory in which the economy collapsed once knavish bees turned honest. When republished with a commentary, The Fable of the Bees was seen as a scandalous attack on Christian values and Mandeville was recommended for prosecution for his tendency to corrupt all morals. He kept writing, and his ideas went on to influence David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as Keynes and Hayek.

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  • David Wootton 16 episodes
    Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York
  • Helen Paul 8 episodes
    Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton
  • John Callanan 3 episodes
    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King's College London

Reading list

  • A History of Economics: The Past as the Present
    John Kenneth Galbraith (Penguin, 1991) Google Books →
  • Private Vices, Public Benefits: Bernard Mandeville's Social and Political Thought
    M. M. Goldsmith (Cambridge University Press, 1985) Google Books →
  • The Social Thought of Bernard Mandeville: Virtue and Commerce in Eighteenth Century England
    Thomas A. Horne (Columbia University Press, 1978) Google Books →
  • The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph
    Albert O. Hirschman (Princeton University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • The Enlightenment's Fable: Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society
    E. J. Hundert (Cambridge University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1850
    Joel Mokyr (Yale University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • Bernard Mandeville's "A Modest Defence of Publick Stews": Prostitution and Its Discontents in Early Georgian England
    Irwin Primer (ed.) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) Google Books →
  • Power, Pleasure, and Profit: Insatiable Appetites from Machiavelli to Madison
    David Wootton (Harvard University Press, 2018) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Bernard Mandeville, 1670 to 1733, scandalised the British establishment with his book Fable of the Bees, in which he argued that private vices were essential to a healthy economy.