Political economy was a term widely used from the late 18th century to the end of the 19th to designate the comprehensive study of economic activity in its relationship to public policy, custom, and law. With the great 19th-century advances in economics (including partial and general equilibrium theory and marginal utility theory) came considerable specialization and formalization, and by the early 20th century, the more general field of political economy had split into economics on the one hand and political science on the other.

The term classical political economy refers to a (predominantly British) subset of the works of political economy. Classical political economy was social theory at its grandest. The classical political economists combined comprehensive views of economic progress—and all its attendant complications and discontents—with ...

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