The Economics of Starvation: Laissez-faire Ideology and Famine in Colonial India

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Stahl investigates the role of liberal economics in the formulation of the disastrous famine policy of the British colonial administration in nineteenth-century India, where millions of Indians starved to death in a series of famines. The chapter examines the influential debates around the Great Famine of 1876–1878. Despite widespread critique from the public in India and Britain, the colonial administrators abstained from active policies to help the famine victims. They did so out of a fear of interfering with self-regulating market forces and creating long-term dependence on public aid. The hegemonic position of free trade ideas and economic liberalism allowed for proponents of a hard laissez-faire line to mobilize considerable intellectual resources, from Adam Smith to Ricardo, to overcome humanitarian critiques.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Intellectual History of Economic Normativities
EditorsMikkel Thorup
Number of pages16
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2016
ISBN (Print)9781137594167, 9781137594150
ISBN (Electronic)9781137594167
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Cite this