John Atkinson Hobson, commonly known as J.A. Hobson, (July 6, 1858 – April 1, 1940) was an English economist and imperial critic, widely popular as a lecturer and writer.
John Atkinson Hobson was born in Derby, England, the son of William Hobson and Josephine Atkinson. He studied at Lincoln College, Oxford, afterwards teaching classics and English literature at schools in Faversham and Exeter before accepting a position in London School of Economics.
When Hobson moved to London in 1887, England was in the middle of a major economic depression. While classical economics was at a loss to explain the vicious business cycles, London was awash in societies and clubs that proposed alternatives. While living in London, Hobson was exposed to the Social Democrats and Henry Mayers Hyndman, Christian Socialists, Henry George's 'One-Tax' as well as befriending several prominent Fabians at the LSE, some of whom he had known at Oxford. However, none of these groups proved persuasive enough for Hobson; rather it was his collaboration with a friend, the famous businessman and mountain climber Albert F. Mummery, that would produce Hobson's contribution to economics: the theory of underconsumption. First outlined by Mummery and Hobson in the 1889 book, 'Physiology of Industry', underconsumption was a scathing indictment of Say's Law and classical economics' emphasis on thrift. The forwardness of the book's conclusions discredited Hobson among the professional economics community, and through the supposed (though not proven) machinations of F.Y. Edgeworth and other Neoclassical marginalists, Hobson's lectures were confined to classical literature. Ultimately he was pushed out of the academic community.
During the very late 19th-century his notable works included Problems of Poverty (1891), Evolution of Modern Capitalism (1894), Problem of the Unemployed (1896) and John Ruskin: Social Reformer (1898). In which, Hobson's famous critique of the classical theory of rent and proposed generalization anticipated the Neoclassical "marginal productivity" theory of distribution.
Soon after this period Hobson was recruited by the editor of the Manchester Guardian to be their South-African correspondent. During his coverage of the Second Boer War, Hobson began to form the idea that imperialism was the direct result of the expanding forces of modern capitalism. His return to England was marked by his strong condemnation of the conflict.
His publications in the next few years demonstrated an exploration of the links between imperialism and international conflict. These works included War in South Africa (1900) and Psychology of Jingoism (1901). In what is arguably his magnum opus, Imperialism (1902), he espoused the opinion that imperial expansion is driven by a search for new markets and investment opportunities overseas. Imperialism gained Hobson an international reputation, and influenced such notable thinkers as Lenin, Trotsky and Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951).
Hobson wrote for several other journals before writing his next major work, The Industrial System (1909). In this tract he argued that maldistribution of income led, through oversaving and underconsumption, to unemployment and that the remedy lay in eradicating the "surplus" by the redistribution of income through taxation and the nationalization of monopolies.
Hobson's opposition to the First World War led him to join the Union of Democratic Control. His advocacy for the formation of a world political body to prevent wars can be found clearly in his piece Towards International Government (1914). However, he was staunchly opposed to the League of Nations.
The year 1919 saw Hobson joining the Independent Labour Party. This was shortly followed by writings for socialist publications such as the New Leader, the Socialist Review and the New Statesman. During this period it became clear that Hobson favoured capitalist reformation over communist revolution. He was a notable critic of the Labour Government of 1929.
In the later years of his life, Hobson published his autobiography, Confessions of an Economic Heretic (1938), and expressed hope that the USA would join World War Two. Hobson died before the German air force attacked British skies.