Many thinkers tried to understand the staggering changes taking place in the early Industrial Age. These thinkers looked for natural laws that governed the world of business and economics. Middle- class business leaders embraced the laissez-faire, or “hands-off” approach, believing that a free market would eventually help every- one, not just the rich. However, one British laissez-faire economist,
Thomas Malthus, felt that the population would grow faster than the food supply. As long as the population kept growing the poor would suffer. He opposed any government help including charity and vaccinations. He urged families to have fewer children.
Other thinkers sought to modify laissez-faire ideas to justify some government intervention. The British philosopher and econo- mist Jeremy Bentham advocated utilitarianism, or the idea that the goal of society should be the “greatest happiness for the greatest number” of citizens. Bentham’s ideas influenced the British philoso- pher and economist John Stuart Mill. Although he strongly believed in individual freedom, Mill wanted the government to step in to improve the hard lives of the working class.
To end poverty and injustice, others offered a radical solution— socialism. Under socialism, the people, as a whole rather than as individuals, would own and operate the means of production— the farms, factories, railways, and other businesses that produced and distributed goods. A number of early socialists, such as Robert
Owen, established communities where all work…