• Public finance theory nineteenth century;
  • public debt;
  • British–German comparison;
  • Carl Dietzel;
  • Lorenz von Stein;
  • Adolph Wagner;
  • German public finance theory pre-1900;
  • British classical economists


The positions of British and German economists on public debt in the long nineteenth century differed substantially from each other. Whereas British classical economists regarded any public debt as ruinous for the country, German economists promoted debt accumulation for productivity-enhancing public investment and current outlays with benefits for future fiscal years. This article summarizes the positions of the most prominent British economists before 1850, David Hume, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas R. Malthus and John Stuart Mill, and deals more extensively with those of their German colleagues Carl Dietzel, Lorenz von Stein and Adolph Wagner after 1855.