Joseph Lowe (economist)

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Joseph Lowe (died 1831)[1] was a Scottish journalist and political economist. He is now known for his pioneer treatment of indexation, and Maurice Kendall called him the generally recognised "father of index numbers".[2][3]

In the debate on the Corn Laws in 1839, Sir Robert Peel cited the views of Lowe and Thomas Tooke, to argue against imposing a low fixed rate of import duty on corn.[4]


From Brechin, Lowe attended the University of St Andrews and University of Edinburgh. He then went into business, spending time in the Netherlands from 1792, and then London.[5][6]

Lowe spent a period at Caen in France, from June 1814.[5][7] From September 1815 he was tutor there to Edward Deas Thomson and his elder brother; Thomson later kept in touch and discussed technology with Lowe.[8] He also employed Nathaniel Morren and others as writers.[9] James Mill was a friend of Lowe from school days, and his son John Stuart Mill visited Lowe in France for some weeks in 1821.[1][10]

Lowe was appointed lecturer in Commerce at King's College, London, around 1830, at the end of his life.[11] According to Mill's biographer Alexander Bain, Lowe was partly dependent on Mill, and was unable to retain his position.[12]


  • An Inquiry into the State of the British West Indies (1807)[13]
  • Naval Anecdotes: or a New Key to the Proceedings of a late Administration (1807), an anonymous defence of the government, is attributed to Lowe.[5]

The Present State of England in Regard to Agriculture, Trade and Finance (1822) was Lowe's major work, now noted mostly for its Chapter IX, Fluctuation in the Value of Money or in the Price of Commodities, which influenced George Poulett Scrope.[14] Otto Neurath later praised this book as an attempt at a comprehensive sketch of a war economy.[15] Lowe's general conclusions were rather buoyant, allowing the British economy good prospects and the moderation of the culture being promising for the future. He supported free trade and opposed the views of Robert Malthus.[16]

Lowe advocated indexation as applied to bonds, but also to wage contracts and land rents.[17] His advocacy of a "tabular standard" (a precursor of the indexed unit of account) has been recognised as a technical advance in monetary analysis;[18] Lowe used the terms "standard of reference" or "table of reference";[19] the idea itself, and the term "tabular standard" are attributed to George Shuckburgh-Evelyn.[20]

The first to use weighted index numbers, Lowe in effect anticipated the Laspeyres index. The book reviewed previous work by William Fleetwood, George Shuckburgh and Arthur Young. A German translation appeared in 1823.[21][22] Lowe innovated in his use of constant price estimates, and the consideration of different demographic groups and their consumption, which anticipated the modern concept of consumer price index.[23][24] Samuel Bailey argued against the concept of tabular standards, pointing to the difficulties arising from the need for like-to-like comparisons.[25]

William Stanley Jevons later found Lowe's pioneer work on inflation-indexed bonds "ingenious".[26] Lowe was a proponent of such bonds, to support and buffer the developing capital market.[27] The book also opposed expansion of the workhouse system, on grounds of expense.[28]


As a statistician, Lowe was one of an early group who collected economic data, and applied it in pamphlets and polemics. In fact the term current then was "political arithmetician". The larger significance of the statistical work of Lowe and Thomas Tooke is that they collected figures from the period of the Continental System, of the latter part of the Napoleonic Wars. These data were then deployed in the theoretical arguments of the 1820s, dominated by David Ricardo and his doctrine on convertibility.[29]

There were no agreed principles on collection and use of data. Others bringing forward sets of figures were Patrick Colquhoun, Frederick Morton Eden, and George Richardson Porter. Their work carried less intellectual prestige than that of the political economists.[30] Lowe was mainly concerned with fiscal policy.[31] He accused those who had drawn up the Bullion Report into monetary policy after the end of the Napoleonic Wars of failing to take into account recent economic growth.[32] He argued the point quantitatively for the previous decade in The Present State of England (1822).[33]


Lowe turned from his career as merchant to writing, after a reply he made to a pamphlet of Henry Brougham in 1806 was a success. He wrote for Lloyd's Evening Post and the Edinburgh Review. He mainly contributed to the Monthly Review, for which he wrote in the period 1805 to 1815. In reviewing a work of Davis Giddy on bullionism, he produced his own analysis, in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, of the connection of foreign exchange and shortages of bullion.[6][34] He also contributed to The Athenaeum edited by John Aikin.[5]


Lowe wrote in the 1824 Britannica supplement on copyright, using the article to advocate for an extension of the current term of authors' copyright.[35] This work was reprinted in Remarks on Literary Property (1838) by Philip Houlbrooke Nicklin in Philadelphia.[36] In the Encyclopædia Britannica Seventh Edition Lowe wrote on "Austria" and "Book-Keeping".[37][38] He wrote also for the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, on "Bullion", "Commerce", "Currency" and other topics.[39]


  1. ^ a b Bentham, Jeremy (1994). The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham: July 1820 to December 1821. Oxford University Press. p. 327 note. ISBN 978-0-19-822617-8. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  2. ^ William N. Goetzmann; K. Geert Rouwenhorst (2005). The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations that Created Modern Capital Markets. Oxford University Press. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-19-517571-4. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  3. ^ M. G. Kendall, Studies in the History of Probability and Statistics, XXI. The Early History of Index Numbers, Revue de l'Institut International de Statistique / Review of the International Statistical Institute Vol. 37, No. 1 (1969), pp. 1–12, at p. 5. Published by: International Statistical Institute (ISI). Stable URL:
  4. ^ Anna Gambles (1999). Protection and Politics: Conservative Economic Discourse, 1815 – 1852. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. p. 66 note 54. ISBN 978-0-86193-244-3. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Joseph Lowe (1823). England nach seinem gegenwärtigen zustande des ackerbaues, des handels und der finanzen ... (in German). F.A. Brockhaus. pp. 20–1. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Alexander Dick (12 April 2013). Romanticism and the Gold Standard: Money, Literature, and Economic Debate in Britain 1790–1830. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 32–3. ISBN 978-1-137-29293-3. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  7. ^ Barton Swaim (2009). Scottish Men of Letters and the New Public Sphere, 1802 – 1834. Associated University Presse. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-8387-5716-1. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  8. ^ Stephen Glynn Foster (1978). Colonial Improver: Edward Deas Thompson (1800–1879). Melbourne University Press. p. 5 and 9. ISBN 0522841368. 
  9. ^ Nathaniel Morren (1848). Sermons, to which is prefixed a memoir of the author. William Blackwood and Sons. p. x. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  10. ^ John Stuart Mill (1981). Autobiography and literary essays. Taylor & Francis. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-8020-2368-1. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  11. ^ The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, Etc. H. Colburn. 1831. p. 314. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Alexander Bain (8 December 2011). James Mill: A Biography. Cambridge University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-108-04080-8. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  13. ^ Joseph Lowe (1807). An inquiry into the state of the British West Indies. C. and R. Baldwin. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  14. ^ Correa Moylan Walsh, The Fundamental Problem in Monetary Science (1903), pp. 171–2;
  15. ^ Otto Neurath (1973). Empiricism and Sociology. Springer. pp. 126–7. ISBN 978-90-277-0259-3. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  16. ^ Stephen Glynn Foster (1978). Colonial Improver: Edward Deas Thompson (1800–1879). Melbourne University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0522841368. 
  17. ^ Mark Deacon; Andrew Derry; Dariush Mirfendereski (21 April 2004). Inflation-indexed Securities: Bonds, Swaps and Other Derivatives. John Wiley & Sons. p. 2 note 4. ISBN 978-0-470-86898-0. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  18. ^ Joseph A. Schumpeter (24 March 1994). History of Economic Analysis. Taylor & Francis. p. 682. ISBN 978-0-203-98391-1. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  19. ^ Redvers Opie, A Neglected English Economist: George Poulett Scrope, The Quarterly Journal of Economics Vol. 44, No. 1 (Nov. 1929), pp. 101–137, at p. 121 note 3. Published by: Oxford University Press. Stable URL:
  20. ^ R. H. Inglis Palgrave (5 March 2015). Dictionary of Political Economy. Cambridge University Press. p. 510. ISBN 978-1-108-08080-4. 
  21. ^ Richard Stone (1997). Some British Empiricists in the Social Sciences, 1650–1900. Cambridge University Press. pp. 136–8. ISBN 978-0-521-57145-6. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  22. ^ England nach seinem gegenwärtigen Zustande des Ackerbaues, des Handels und der Finanzen betrachtet, translated by L. H. von Jakob, Leipzig 1823.
  23. ^ Jonathan Nitzan; Shimshon Bichler (26 May 2009). Capital as Power: A Study of Order and Creorder. Routledge. p. 41 note 12. ISBN 978-0-203-87632-9. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  24. ^ W. Erwin Diewert; John Greenlees; Charles R. Hulten (15 February 2010). Price Index Concepts and Measurement. University of Chicago Press. p. 20 note 4. ISBN 978-0-226-14857-1. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  25. ^ Sir Robert Harry Inglis Palgrave (1987). The New Palgrave: a dictionary of economics. 1. Stockton Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-935859-10-2. 
  26. ^ John C. Wood (1988). William Stanley Jevons: critical assessments. Routledge. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-415-00387-2. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  27. ^ Robert T. Price (1 January 1997). The Rationale and Design of Inflation-Indexed Bonds (EPub). International Monetary Fund. p. 1990. ISBN 978-1-4527-4425-4. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  28. ^ Anthony Brundage and David Eastwood, The Making of the New Poor Law Redivivus, Past & Present No. 127 (May 1990), pp. 183–194, at p. 192 note 27. Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society. Stable URL:
  29. ^ Ronald Findlay, ed. (c. 2006). Eli Heckscher, International Trade, and Economic History. MIT Press. pp. 395–6. ISBN 0262062518. 
  30. ^ Ashu Pasricha (1 January 2008). Encyclopaedia Eminent Thinkers (vol. 11 : The Political Thought of Dadabhai Naoroji). Concept Publishing Company. p. 47. ISBN 978-81-8069-491-2. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  31. ^ André Vanoli (2005). A History of National Accounting. IOS Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-58603-469-6. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  32. ^ James Frederick Rees, A Short Fiscal and Financial History of England 1815–1918 (1921), p. 51;
  33. ^ George Richardson Porter (1970). The Progress of the Nation. Taylor & Francis. pp. 697–8. GGKEY:UW2YNK654YA. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  34. ^ Lionel Madden (11 January 2013). Robert Southey: The Critical Heritage. Routledge. p. 244. ISBN 978-1-134-78214-7. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  35. ^ John J. Lowndes; Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd (2008). An Historical Sketch of the Law of Copyright: With Remarks on Sergeant Talfourd's Bill, and an Appendix of the Copyright Laws of Foreign Countries. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. p. vi. ISBN 978-1-58477-912-4. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  36. ^ Philip Houlbrooke Nicklin; Joseph Lowe (1838). Remarks on literary property. P. H. Nicklin & T. Johnson. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  37. ^ The Edinburgh Literary Journal; Or, Weekly Register of Criticism and Belles Lettres. Constable. 1831. p. 20. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  38. ^ Robert Russell (1857). North America, its agriculture and climate: containing observations on the agriculture and climate of Canada, the United States, and the island of Cuba. A. and C. Black. p. 398. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  39. ^ James MacQueen (1821). A Geographical and Commercial View of Northern Central Africa: Containing a Particular Account of the Course and Termination of the Great River Niger in the Atlantic Ocean. W. Blackwood. p. 301. Retrieved 17 May 2013.