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Jan 04

It was 150 years ago that the book "Unto This Last" was published, a groundbreaking work that turned economic thinking on its head and profoundly influenced the views of many including Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian independence.
Gandhi first read the subversive masterwork of political economy by John Ruskin in 1904, during a train trip in South Africa where he was living at the time.
"The book was impossible to lay aside, once I had begun it," wrote the progenitor of the non-violence resistance movement years later in his autobiography.
"It gripped me. Johannesburg to Durban was a twenty-four hours' journey. The train reached there in the evening. I could not get any sleep that night. I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book," Gandhi wrote.
"I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions in this great book," he wrote, adding the work "captured me and made me transform my life."
Ruskin was a middle-aged writer and art critic who already had two well-received works -- "The Seven Lamps of Architecture" and "The Stones of Venice" -- when he wrote "Unto This Last".
The book, a radical critique of capitalism that up-ended Victorian-era England when it was published in December 1860, appeared first as a series in four issues of "Cornhill Magazine." It was bound as a single volume 18 months later.
It caused an uproar by rejecting the classical theories of economists like Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill.
The book redefined humans as complex beings often driven by emotions and motivations that cannot be explained by the laws of supply and demand.
The title "Unto This Last" is taken from the Gospel of St Matthew, chapter 20.
The New Testament Bible passage tells the parable of a vineyard owner who hires day labourers at a marketplace. Some of the men were hired early in the morning, while others were taken on later during the course of the day.
At the end of the day all the workers received the same wages of a penny -- to the consternation of those who had toiled away since early morning.
But the vineyard owner's reply was: "Friend, I do thee no wrong. Didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way. I will give unto this last even as unto thee."
Ruskin believed that the theory of supply and demand resulted in misery for workers, because it encouraged them to sell their labour at a discount when jobs were scarce. 

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