“So long as there are earnest believers in the world, they will always wish to punish opinions, even if their judgment tells them it unwise, and their conscience it is wrong.”
— Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot was a nineteenth century British economist. He was born in Langport, Somerset, England. He attended University College London, where he earned a master’s degree in 1848. He was called to the Bar, but did not practice, and joined his father in the banking business. He wrote for various periodicals, but gained notice as an early editor of The Economist newspaper, which had been founded by his father-in-law (James Wilson). After taking over in 1861, he expanded the publication’s reporting on the United States and on politics, and is considered to have increased its influence among policymakers.
In 1867, he wrote a book called The English Constitution which explored the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically the functioning of Parliament and the British monarchy and the contrasts between British and American government. The book is a standard work which was translated into several languages.
He also wrote Physics and Politics (1872), in which he coined the still-current expression “the cake of custom,” and Lombard Street (1873), a valuable financial work. In his contributions to sociological theory through historical studies, Bagehot may be compared to his contemporary Henry James Sumner Maine. A collection of essays, biographical and economic, was published after his death.
In honour of his achievements The Economist named its weekly column on British politics after him and every year the British Political Studies Association awards the Walter Bagehot Prize for the best dissertation in the field of government and public administration.