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Less precise and much harder to summarize is Mill’s view of the economic roles of the contemporary state. On this theme his thinking after 1848 underwent pronounced changes in response to transformations in society and the currents of European opinion. It was the ethos of his philosophy to further the full and free development of every human individual. He doubted, however, whether the existing industrial society offered the best environment for such development, since sometimes it failed to permit even the most harsh and exhausting labour to earn the bare necessaries of life. It fostered inequalities between groups, gave advantages to some, and imposed impediments on others. He believed that in existing society remedies for man’s plight must be sought through a variety of institutions: co-operative industrial associations might replace the wage system, reformed proprietorship might replace land monopoly, and restrictions on the right of inheritance might reduce the general extent of inequality. Many new and untried instruments of economic control are possible and must be employed under the direct or indirect initiative of the state.
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While the themes and purposes of these essays show much similarity, their provenances, comparative weights, and histories are diverse. Two of them, and are separate monographs, the former of which went through, in Mill’s lifetime, four Library Editions and the latter, three; each also appeared in often-reprinted inexpensive People’s Editions. Both of these have, it need hardly be said, earned a lasting place in discussions of British political thought. Of the other eleven items (excluding the Appendices), one, first appeared as a pamphlet, which went through two editions and then was republished in Volume III of Mill’s and another is a solicited paper in support of competitive civil service examinations, which was first published in and then reprinted as a pamphlet.