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SIR WILLIAM PETTY (1623-1687)

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Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 337 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SIR WILLIAM PETTY (1623-1687), English statistician and political economist, born on the 26th of May 1623, was the son of a clothier at Romsey in Hampshire, and received his early education at the grammar school there. About the age of fifteen he went to Caen (Normandy), taking with him a little stock of merchandise, on which he traded, and so maintained himself whilst learning French, improving himself in Latin and Greek, and studying mathematics and other sciences. On his return to England he seems to have had for a short time a place ' The survey executed by Petty was, somewhat whimsically, called the " Down Survey," because the results were set down in maps; it is called by that name in Petty's will. He left in MS. a full account of the proceedings in connexion with it, which was edited by Sir Thomas A. Larcom for the Irish Archaeological Society in 1851. The maps, some of which were injured by a fire in 1711, are preserved in the Public Record Office, Dublin. His Treatise of Taxes and Contributions contains a clear statement of the doctrine that price depends on the labour necessar) for production. Petty is much concerned to discover a fixed unit of value, and he thinks he has found it in the necessary sustenance of a man for a day. He understands the cheapening effect of the division of labour. He states correctly the notion of " natural and true " rent as the remainder of the produce of land after payment of the cost of production; but he seems to have no idea of the " law of diminishing returns." He has much that is just on the subject of money: he sees that there may be an excess of it as well as a deficiency, and regards the prohibition of its exportation as contrary to sound policy. But he errs in attributing the fall of the rate of interest which takes place in the progress of industry to the increase in the quantity of money. He protested against the fetters imposed on the trade of Ireland, and advocated a union of that country with Great Britain. Whilst the general tendency in his day was to represent England as in a state of progressive decline—an opinion put forward particularly in the tract entitled Britannia languens—Petty declared her resources and prospects to be not inferior to those of France. A complete list of his works is given in the Athenae oxonienses. The most important are: the Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662, 1667 and 1685); Political Arithmetic, presented in MS. to Charles II., but, because it contained matter Iikely to be offensive to France, kept unpublished till 1691, when it was edited by Petty's son Charles; Quantulumcunque, or a Tract concerning Money (1682) ; Observations upon the Dublin Bills of Mortality in i681 and the State of that City (1683); Essay concerning the Multiplication of Mankind (1686) ; Political Anatomy of Ireland (1691). Several papers appeared in the Philosophical Transactions. See Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, ed. C. H. Hull (2 vols., 1899). PETTY-OFFICER, the title in the navy of a large number of minor (Fr. petit, small) officers, of less than commissioned or warrant rank—such as the master-at-arms, sailmaker, caulker, armourer, cook, &c. They were originally named, and removable, by the captain.
End of Article: SIR WILLIAM PETTY (1623-1687)
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