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Hume on Pessimistic Bias

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A nice quote on pessimistic bias during the reign of King James I from Hume's History of England:
Every session of parliament, during this reign, we meet with grievous lamentations concerning the decay of trade and the growth of popery: Such violent propensity have men to complain of the present times, and to entertain discontent against their fortune and condition. The king himself was deceived by these popular complaints, and was at a loss to account for the total want of money, which he heard so much exaggerated. It may, however, be affirmed, that, during no preceding period of English history, was there a more sensible encrease, than during the reign of this monarch, of all the advantages which distinguish a flourishing people. Not only the peace which he maintained, was favourable to industry and commerce: His turn of mind inclined him to promote the peaceful arts: And trade being as yet in its infancy, all additions to it must have been the more evident to every eye, which was not blinded by melancholy prejudices.
HT: Dan Klein



COMMENTS (3 to date)
Mike Sproul writes:

Hume confuses a "total want of money" (i.e., a money shortage) with a low standard of living. Money shortages were quite common in Hume's time, even as standards of living were rising. A common cause of money shortages was wear of coins. If a new coin contained 1 oz of silver, while a worn one contained 0.9 oz, then every attempt by the mint to issue new coins would run up against Gresham's law, and the shortage of money would grow worse.

Olivier Massin writes:

...which is compatible with Hume's methodological pessimism about human nature:

Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and action, cooperate to public good. […]
It is, therefore, a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave; though, at the same time, it appears somewhat strange, that a maxim should be true in politics which is false in fact. (http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Hume/hmMPL6.html)

Nathan Smith writes:

Which king was it? Don't tantalize us by giving us such a fascinating characterization of some English king's reign and then leave us to guess who it was!

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