Petty, Sir William

born May 26, 1623, Romsey, Hampshire, Eng.
died Dec. 16, 1687, London

British political economist and statistician.

He gave up a life at sea to study medicine, and taught anatomy at the University of Oxford. He founded mines, ironworks, and fisheries in Ireland. He was also responsible for several inventions and was a founder of the Royal Society. Petty was an originator of political arithmetic, which he defined as the art of reasoning by figures upon things relating to government. In his best-known work, Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662), he favoured giving free rein to the forces of individual self-interest but declared the maintenance of a high level of employment to be a duty of the state. He also argued that the labour necessary for production was the main determinant of exchange value.

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▪ English political economist
born May 26, 1623, Romsey, Hampshire, England
died December 16, 1687, London
 English political economist and statistician whose main contribution to political economy, Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662), examined the role of the state in the economy and touched on the labour theory of value.

      Petty studied medicine at the Universities of Leiden, Paris, and Oxford. He was successively a physician, a professor of anatomy at Oxford, a professor of music in London, inventor, surveyor and landowner in Ireland, and a member of Parliament.

      As a proponent of the empirical scientific doctrines of the newly established Royal Society, of which he was a founder, Petty was one of the originators of political arithmetic, which he defined as the art of reasoning by figures upon things relating to government. His Essays in Political Arithmetick and Political Survey or Anatomy of Ireland (1672) presented rough but ingeniously calculated estimates of population and of social income. His ideas on monetary theory (money) and policy were developed in Verbum Sapienti (1665) and in Quantulumcunque Concerning Money, 1682 (1695).

      Petty originated many of the concepts that are still used in economics today. He coined the term full employment, for example, and stated that the price of land equals the discounted present value of expected future rent on the land.

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Universalium. 2010.

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