John Elliot Cairnes Biography

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Who is John Elliot Cairnes? What did John Elliot Cairnes do? Information on John Elliot Cairnes biography, life story and works.

John Elliot Cairnes; (1823-1875), Irish economist, who made important contributions to the theories of competition, international trade, and labor markets. He developed the concept of “noncompeting groups” to explain immobility between occupational groups but mobility within groups. Cairnes held that craftsmen do not compete for jobs with engineers, nor do engineers compete with doctors and other professional men, but that craftsmen do compete with one another. He extended this thesis to labor and capital mobility in international trade.

Cairnes was born in County Louth on Dec. 26, 1823. He attended Trinity College, Dublin, and studied chemistry and, later, engineering and law. Cairnes was noted as a “pure theorist,” and although he was a strong supporter of laissez-faire doctrine, he criticized the extremist position exemplified by Frederic Bastiat. His Character and Logical Method of Political Economy (1857) is considered a landmark in the methodology of economics; his Slave Power (1862), an analysis of slavery in America, testifies to his interest in the practical problems of his day. His major work, Some Leading Principles of Political Economy Newly Expounded (1874), restated the analytics of the classical theory of value.

He served as professor of political economy at the University of Dublin and at Queens College, Galway, and completed his career at the University of London. He suffered ill health much of his life as the result of a hunting accident. He died at Blackheath, London, on July 8, 1875.

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