I am currently reading Barry Gordon’s Political Economy in Parliament, 1819-1823, detailing David Ricardo’s time in Parliament. What strikes me in this book is just how wedded most thinkers (including Ricardo) were to the idea of intractable and necessary class conflict. A fair amount of this was due to Ricardo’s static equilibrium analysis, but the only person in the book who really disengages himself from such thinking is Mathias Attwood, who believed that (as a result of Robert Peel’s currency act), there was no conflict simply because _everybody_ was getting worse. Even people who found themselves strongly against Ricardo held firm to the battle between landowners and farmers, workers and capitalists, “dead capital” owners and entrepreneurs, etc. etc. The idea that there could be a general increase in prosperity which tended to serve the interests of no particular group* seemed a completely foreign concept.
Even in Britain during the beginning of the classical liberal era, the zero-sum game was a commonly accepted notion, one which definitely had a negative effect in terms of the creation of good policy.
* – Naturally, any dynamic economy will have winners and losers. What I mean here is the idea that no one broad sector of the population (defined a priori) would be the primary beneficiaries.