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A Treatise on Political Economy; Say, Jean-Baptiste
58 paragraphs found.

This observation is applicable to all cases, where there is a supply of commodities or of services in the market. They will universally find the most extensive demand in those places, where the most of values are produced; because in no other places are the sole means of purchase created, that is, values. Money performs but a momentary function in this double exchange; and when the transaction is finally closed, it will always be found, that one kind of commodity has been exchanged for another.

These considerations have hitherto been almost wholly overlooked, though forming the basis of correct conclusions in matters of commerce, and of its regulation by the national authority. The right course where it has, by good luck been pursued, appears to have been selected by accident, or, at most, by a confused idea of its propriety, without either self-conviction, or the ability to convince other people.

Sismondi, who seems not to have very well understood the principles laid down in this and the three first chapters of Book II. of this work, instances the immense quantity of manufactured products with which England has of late inundated the markets of other nations, as a proof, that it is impossible for industry to be too productive. ( Nouv. Prin. liv. iv. c. 4.) But the glut thus occasioned proves nothing more than the feebleness of production in those countries that have been thus glutted with English manufactures. Did Brazil produce wherewithal to purchase the English goods exported thither, those goods would not glut her market. Were England to admit the import of the products of the United States, she would find a better market for her own in those States. The English government, by the exorbitance of its taxation upon import and consumption, virtually interdicts to its subjects many kinds of importation, thus obliging the merchant to offer to foreign countries a higher price for those articles, whose import is practicable, as sugar, coffee, gold, silver, &c. for the price of the precious metals to them is enhanced by the low price of their commodities, which accounts for the ruinous returns of their commerce.

I would not be understood to maintain in this chapter, that one product can not be raised in too great abundance, in relation to all others; but merely that nothing is more favourable to the demand of one product, than the supply of another; that the import of English manufactures into Brazil would cease to be excessive and be rapidly absorbed, did Brazil produce on her side returns sufficiently ample; to which end it would be necessary that the legislative bodies of either country should consent, the one to free production, the other to free importation. In Brazil every thing is grasped by monopoly, and property is not exempt from the invasion of the government. In England, the heavy duties are a serious obstruction to the foreign commerce of the nation, inasmuch as they circumscribe the choice of returns. I happen myself to know of a most valuable and scientific collection of natural history, which could not be imported from Brazil into England by reason of the exorbitant duties. *

* The views of Sismondi, in this particular, have been since adopted by our own Malthus, and those of our author by Ricardo. This difference of opinion has given rise to an interesting discussion between our author and Malthus, to whom he has recently addressed a correspondence on this and other parts of the science. Were any thing wanting to confirm the arguments of this chapter, it would be supplied by a reference to his Lettre 1, à M. Malthus. Sismondi has vainly attempted to answer Ricardo, but has made no mention of his original antagonist. Vide Annales de Legislation, No. 1. art. 3. Geneve, 1820. Translator.

On this point it has been alleged, that by sending abroad goods instead of specie, a demand is created for goods, and the producers enabled to make a profit upon their production. I answer, that, even when specie is sent abroad, that specie must have been first obtained by the export of some indigenous product; for, we may rest assured, that the foreign owner of it did not give it to the French importer for nothing; and France had nothing to offer in the first instance but her domestic products. If the supply of the precious metals in the country be more than sufficient for the wants of the country, it is a fitter object of export than another commodity; and, if more of the specie be exported than the excess of the supply above the demand for the purposes of circulation, we may calculate with certainty, that, since the value of specie must have been necessarily raised by the exportation, other specie will be imported to replace what has been withdrawn; for the purchase of which last, home products must have been sent abroad, which will have yielded a profit to the home producers. In a word, every value sent out of France, for the purchase of foreign returns for the French market, may be resolved into a product of domestic industry, given either first or last, for France has nothing else to procure them with.


But, admitting the advantage of buying cheap to be as substantial as it is represented, the nation at large has a right to participate in that cheapness; the home consumers ought to buy cheap as well as the company. Whereas in practice it is just the reverse, and, for a very simple reason: the company is not exempt from competition as a purchaser, for other nations are its competitors: but as a seller it is exempt; for the rest of the nation can buy the articles it deals in nowhere else, the import by foreigners being wholly prohibited. It asks its own price, and can command the market, especially if it be attentive to keep the market always understocked, as the English call it; that is, if the supply be just so far short of the demand, as to keep alive the competition of purchasers. *92


First, I would ask, what is meant by this charge? If it be meant to accuse the dealers of buying in plentiful seasons, when corn is cheap, and laying by in reserve against seasons of scarcity, we have just seen that this is a most beneficial operation, and the sole means of accommodating the supply of so precarious an article to the regularity of an unceasing demand. Large stores of grain laid in at a low price contribute powerfully to place the subsistence of the population beyond risk of failure, and deserve not only the protection, but the encouragement of the public authorities. But, if it be meant to charge the corn-dealers with buying up on a rising market and on the approach of scarcity, and thereby enhancing the scarcity and the price, although I admit that this operation has not the same recommendation of utility, and that the consumer is saddled with the additional cost of the operation without any direct equivalent benefit, for in this instance the deficiency of one year is not made good by the hoarded surplus of a preceding one; yet I cannot think it has ever been attended with any very alarming or fatal consequences. Corn is a commodity of most extended production; and its price cannot be arbitrarily raised, without disarming the competition of an infinity of sellers, and without an extent of dealing and of agency scarcely practicable to individuals. It is, besides, a most cumbersome and inconvenient article in comparison with its price, and, consequently, most expensive and troublesome in the carriage and warehousing. A store of any considerable value can not escape observation. *101 And its liability to damage or decay often makes sales compulsory, and exposes the larger speculators to immense loss.


With regard to the tribute which the dealer is supposed to exact from both producer and consumer, it is a charge that will attach with equal justice upon every branch of commerce whatsoever. There would be some meaning in it, could products reach the hands of the consumer without any advance of capital, without warehouses, trouble, combination, or any kind of difficulty. But, so long as difficulties shall exist, nobody will be able to surmount them so cheaply, as those who make it their special business. Legislation should take an enlarged view of commerce in the aggregate, small and great; it will find its agents busied in traversing the whole surface of the territory, watching every fluctuation of demand and supply, adjusting the casual or local deficiency of price to meet the charges of production and excess of price above the capacity of consumption. Is it to the cultivator, to the consumer, or to the public administration that we can safely look for so beneficial and powerful an agency? Extend, if you please, the facility of intercourse, and particularly the capacities of internal navigation, which alone is suited to the transport of a commodity so cumbrous and bulky as grain; vigilantly watch over the personal security of the trader; and then leave him to follow his own track. Commerce cannot make good the failure of the crop; but it can distribute whatever there may be to distribute, in the manner best suited to the wants of the community, as well as to the interests of production. And doubtless it was for this reason that Smith pronounced the labour of the corn dealer to be favourable to the production of corn, in the next degree to that of the cultivator himself.

Our author, here, has permitted, although with some slight qualification, an observation to escape from his pen, in direct contradiction with his own general principles, and which, therefore, it is necessary to point out and refute "France," he remarks, in speaking of her manufactures of silk and woollen, "is probably indebted for them to the wise encouragement of Colbert's administration." What is this but admitting that beneficial consequences to manufactures necessarily flow from a protecting system? Now, this we deny, and, in support of this denial, fortunately can at present invoke the highest authority. In the report on the commercial relations between France and Great Britain, which we cannot too often refer to in support of sound principles, Mr. Villiers and Dr. Bowring, both on this point, and regarding the merits and character of Colbert's administration, supply us with the following admirable strictures, which we have great satisfaction in presenting to our readers. They will be found to contain a complete answer to the gratuitous assumption of M. Say, of the wisdom herein displayed by Colbert "by this species of encouragement" to manufactures.

"France thus became the country which adopted and still exhibits the consequences of a protecting system on a large scale. Its introduction may be traced, or rather its extension as far as possible, to Colbert, a minister to whose name and administration a great portion of applause has been given, but whose system of encouragement was based on a complete ignorance of the true principles of commercial legislation. How small an amount of manufacturing prosperity Colbert produced, and how great an amount of agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing wealth he either destroyed or checked in its natural progress, will be obvious to any observer who looks at the immense natural resources and the active intelligence of France. It may be safely asserted, that the whole of the bounties by which he induced adventurers to enter into remote speculations, as well as the excessive duties which he imposed on cheaper foreign articles, were almost uncompensated sacrifices; while, on the other hand, of the manufactures which he transplanted into France, and which he protected by the exclusion of rival productions, scarcely one took permanent root; and of those which still exist, and which he intended to support, there is perhaps none which would not have been more prosperous and extensive, but for those regulations with which his zeal encumbered the early march of manufacturing industry. The popularity in France of Colbert's commercial legislation, and the erroneous deductions drawn from the consequences of his interference, have produced a most prejudicial effect on the minds of a large portion of the French public. Colbert's system was a vain attempt to force capital in new directions. Thus, in order to compel the establishment of a trade with the West Indies, he made the French people pay a premium of thirty francs upon every ton of goods exported, and of fifty francs for every ton of goods imported, independently of other encouragements. In the same spirit, he incited manufacturing settlers, by large rewards, to establish themselves in different parts of France, and boasted of his having set up more than 40,000 looms, whose produce was protected by legal enactments; and no one was found to estimate the counterbalance of loss, while the most flattering pictures were drawn of enormous gain. He began in miscalculation; he brought the most despotic interference to support his errors; and, if their consequences be faithfully traced, they will be found little creditable to his own sagacity, while greatly ruinous to the nation for whose benefit they were intended. The French Revolution broke down many of the absurd and pernicious regulations which Colbert had introduced, but the vestiges of others remain; and although they have become habitual, they interfere with improvement, and give superiority to countries where the action of industry and capital is unfettered."

"Having stated thus much, it would be unjust to withhold from Colbert the credit to which he is entitled for the admirable order he established in the finances, the efforts which he made to improve, in many particulars, the system of taxation, and his opposition to the inconsiderate plan of funding adopted by Louvois. The commercial and maritime legislation of France owes to him the compilation of the ordonnance of 1681, a body of maritime law unrivalled to this moment."

As there is, also, another error, in the same paragraph, we must be allowed briefly to notice it. By advancing to the manufacturers 2000 francs for every loom at work, our author thinks Colbert displayed a degree of wisdom hardly to be expected, inasmuch, as in this instance, "a part of the advance would be employed in reproduction," whereas, according to him, "in ordinary cases, whatever the government levies upon the products of individual exertion is wholly lost to future production." Now, nothing can be more clear, than that the tax levied, for the payment of this advance, is a pure loss to the tax-paying people, and with this peculiar aggravation, that a large class of the tax-payers are not even the consumers of the "encouraged" product. Nor is it exactly true, that in "ordinary cases whatever the government levies is wholly lost to future production," for whether the tax be advanced for every loom at work, or for the work of the looms themselves, is precisely the same thing; and, as to the destination of the tax, a portion of it is quite as likely to be employed in reproduction in the latter as in the former case. Finally, where the tax is simply an "encouragement" to the products, the amount of it will be limited by the effective demand for them, whereas, when the advance is made for every loom at work, there is no such limit to a useless tax. American Editor.


Thus money, or specie, as some people call it, is a commodity, whose value is determined by the same general laws, as that of all other commodities; that is to say, rises and falls in proportion to the relative demand and supply. And so intense is that demand, as to have sometimes been sufficient to make paper, employed as money, equal in value to gold of the same denomination; of which the money of Great Britain is a present example.


All the other governments of Europe, if I mistake not, derive from the coinage a revenue more than equal to the charges of the process. *46 The exclusive privilege of issuing money which they have most properly engrossed, together with the severe penalties denounced against private coiners, would enable them to raise the profit of the business very high by the limitation of their issues; for the value of money, like that of every thing else, is always in the direct ratio to the demand, and in the inverse ratio to the supply.


The public authority persuaded itself, that it could raise or depress the value of money at pleasure; and that on every exchange of goods for money, the value of the goods adjusted itself to the imaginary value, which it pleased authority to affix to it, and not to the value naturally attached to the agent of exchange, money, by the conflicting influence of demand and supply.


Nor is the position of Montesquieu, that money-price depends upon the relative quantity of the total commodities to that of the total money of the nation *64 at all better founded. What do sellers and buyers know of the existence of any other commodities, but those that are the objects of their dealing? And what difference could such knowledge make in the demand and supply in respect to those particular commodities? These opinions have originated in the ignorance at once of fact and of principle.


With great deference to so able a writer, it by no means follows, that, because labour in the same degree is always to the labourer himself of the same value, therefore it must always bear the same value as an object of exchange. Labour, like commodities, may vary in the supply and demand; and its value, like value in general, is determined by the mutual accord of the adverse interests of buyer and seller, and fluctuates accordingly.


Ever since the earliest times recorded in history, wheat has been the staple food of the great mass of the population, in all the principal nations of Europe; consequently, their relative population must have been influenced by the abundance or scarcity of this article of food, more than of any other: the ratio of the demand to the supply must have been, therefore, at all times nearly the same. There is, besides, no product which I know of, that has undergone less alteration in the course of production. The agricultural skill of the ancients was in most respects equal, and in some, perhaps, superior to our own. Capital, indeed, was dearer amongst them; but that difference was little felt; for, in ancient times, the proprietor was commonly both farmer and capitalist; and the capital embarked in agriculture yielded less return than other investments; because, as more honour was attached to this, than to the other branches of industry, commerce and manufacture, the influx of capital, as well as of labour, into that channel, was greater than into the other two. And, during the middle ages, in spite of the general declension of all the arts, the tillage of arable land was prosecuted with a skill little inferior to that of the present day.


There is equal difficulty in the estimation at great distances of place. The staple articles of national food, which, as such, maintain the greatest uniformity in the ratio of the demand and supply, are very different in different climates. In Europe, wheat is the staple; in Asia, it is rice: the relative value of neither the one nor the other in Asia and Europe is tolerably steady; nor has the value of rice in Asia any relation to the value of wheat in Europe. Rice is beyond question less valuable in India, than wheat is in this part of the world; for, besides that the cultivation is less expensive, it yields two crops in the year. This is one reason, why labour is so cheap in India and China.

The relative position of gold and silver, in respect to value, is by no means determined by the respective supply of each from the mines. Humboldt states, in his Essai Pol. sur la Nouvelle Espagne, tom. iv. p. 222, oct., that silver is produced from the mines of America and Europe jointly, in the ratio to gold, of 45 to 1. Now the ratio of their value, instead of being 45 to 1, is only,
InMexico,15 5/8to 1
China,from 12 to 131
Japan,8 to 91

The difference is probably owing to the superior utility and demand of silver for the purposes of plate, &c. as well as of money. It would seem, that this cause operates more forcibly in the East than in the West; for gold jewellery is relatively cheaper there than in our part of the world.


The wants of a nation require a certain supply of such particular commodity, and the extent of that supply is determined by the relative prosperity of the nation for the time being. A surplus of each of those commodities beyond this demand is either not produced at all, or, if produced, must occasion a decline of relative local value: it, therefore, naturally finds its way out of the country, and goes in quest of a market, where it may be in higher estimation.


Money is, in this respect, like all other commodities; it is a convenient agent, and, therefore, employed as such in all operations of exchange; but the intensity of the demand for it is determined in each community, by the relative extent and activity of the exchanges negotiated within it. As soon as there is a supply of money sufficient to circulate all the commodities there are to be circulated, no more money is imported; or, if a surplus flow in, it emigrates again in quest of a market, where its value is greater, or where its utility is more desired. It is seldom or never that any body keeps in his purse or his coffers more specie than enough to meet the current demands of his business or consumption. *92 Every excess beyond these demands is rejected, as bearing neither utility nor interest; and the community at large is fully supplied with specie, as soon as each individual is possessed of the portion suitable to his condition and relative station in society.






The principal phenomena of production have been investigated in the first book; wherein I have shown how human industry, with the aid of capital and of natural agents and properties, creates every kind of utility, which is the primary source of value; and in what way social institutions and public authority operate to the benefit or the prejudice of production. This second book will be devoted to the consideration of the distribution of wealth: to which end it will be necessary, first, to analyze the nature of value, the object of distribution; secondly, to ascertain the laws, which regulate the distribution of value, when once created amongst the various members of society, so as to constitute individual revenue.


The utility of a product is not confined to one human being, but applies to a whole class of society at the least, as in the case of particular articles of clothing; or to a whole community, as in that of most of the articles of food that are adapted to human consumption in general, without distinction of sex or age. For this reason, the demand for a specific object, or product, or act of productive exertion, has a certain degree of extent. The aggregate demand for sugar in France is said to exceed 500,000 quintals per annum. Even the individual demand of a specific product for individual consumption may be more or less urgent. Whatever be its intensity, it may be called by the general name of demand; and the quantity attainable at a given time, and ready for the satisfaction of those who are in want of the specific article, may be called the supply or amount in circulation.


Besides these universal and permanent limitations of supply and demand, there are others of a casual and transient nature, which always operate concurrently with the former.


The prospect of an abundant vintage will lower the price of all the wine on hand, even before a single pipe of the expected vintage has been brought to market; for the supply is brisker, and the sale duller, in consequence of the anticipation. The dealers are anxious to dispose of their stock in hand, in fear of the competition of the new vintage; while the consumers, on the other hand, retard their fresh purchases, in the expectation of gaining in price by the delay. A large arrival and immediate sale of foreign articles all at once, lowers their price, by the relative excess of supply above demand. On the contrary, the expectation of a bad vintage, or the loss of many cargoes on the voyage, will raise prices above the cost of production.


Finally, whatever be the general or particular causes, that operate to determine the relative intensity of supply and demand, it is that intensity, which is the ground-work of price on every act of exchange; for price, it will be remembered, is merely the current value estimated in money. The demand for all objects of pleasure, or utility, would be unlimited, did not the difficulty of attainment, or price, limit and circumscribe the supply. On the other hand, the supply would be infinite, were it not restricted by the same circumstance, the price, or difficulty of attainment: for there can be no doubt, that whatever is producible would then be produced in unlimited quantity, so long as it could find purchasers at any price at all. Demand and supply are the opposite extremes of the beam, whence depend the scales of dearness and cheapness; the price is the point of equilibrium, where the momentum of the one ceases, and that of the other begins.


This is the meaning of the assertion, that, at a given time and place, the price of a commodity rises in proportion to the increase of the demand and the decrease of the supply, and vice versâ; or in other words, that the rise of price is in direct ratio to the demand, and inverse ratio to the supply.


The current value of these appropriable sources of production is established on the same principles, as that of all other objects; that is to say, by the conflicting influence of supply and demand. The only remark that need be made upon it is, that the demand does not originate in the enjoyment anticipated from the immediate use of the particular source; for a field or an implement of trade yields to the owner no direct enjoyment, which is capable of estimation; their value has reference to the value of the product they are capable of raising, which itself originates in the utility of that product, or the satisfaction it may be capable of affording.


Suppose a murrain, or a bad system of management, to cause a scarcity of any kind of live stock, of sheep for instance, the price will rise, but not in proportion to the reduction of the supply; because in proportion as they grow dearer, the demand will decrease. If there were but one-fifth of the present number of sheep, it is very probable their price would advance to no more than double; so, that in place of five sheep, which might together be worth 20 dollars at 4 dollars each, there would remain but one valued at 8 dollars. The diminution of wealth in the article of sheep, notwithstanding the increased price, must therefore be computed at 60 per cent., which is considerably more than a moiety. *14

I find in the Recherches of Dupre de Saint Maur, that in 1342, an ox was sold from 10 to 11 livres tournois. This sum then contained 7 oz. of fine silver, which was worth about 28 oz. of the present day; and 28 oz. of our present money are coined into 171 fr. 30 c., (32 dollars,) which is lower than the price of an ordinary ox. A lean ox bought in Poitou for 300 fr., and afterwards fatted in Lower Normandy, will sell at Paris for from 450 to 500 fr. (84 to 93 dollars.) Butcher's meat has, therefore, more than doubled in price since the 14th century; and probably most other articles of food likewise; and, if the labouring classes had not at the same time been greatly benefited by the progress of industry, and put in possession of additional sources of revenue, they would be worse fed than in the time of Philip of Valois.

This may be easily explained. The growing revenues of the industrious classes have enabled them to multiply, and consequently to swell the demand for all objects of food. But their supply can not keep pace with the increasing demand, because, although the same surface of soil may be rendered more productive, it can not be so to an indefinite degree; and the supply of food by the channel of external commerce, is more expensive than by that of internal agriculture on account of the bulky nature of most of the articles of aliment.


It has already been noticed, *20 that the ten-fold supply of those metals, poured into the market in consequence of the discovery of America, did not effect a corresponding reduction of their value to 1/10 of what it had before been. For, the demand for them was at the same period greatly enlarged by the contemporaneous increase of commerce, manufacture, and luxury. All the leading states of Europe had before been wholly destitute of industry: the circulation of products, whether as capital or for mere consumption, was very trifling in amount. Industry and productive energy made a sudden and simultaneous effort all over Europe; and the commodity employed as the material of money, the agent of exchange, could not but come more in demand, upon the greater extent and frequency of mutual dealings. About the same time, the new route to the Eastern ocean, by rounding the Cape of Good Hope, was discovered, and drew abundance of adventurers into that direction; the products of the East obtained a more general consumption; but Europe, having no other products of her own to offer in exchange, was compelled to give the precious metals, of which India absorbed an immense quantity. Nevertheless, the multiplication of products tended to the increase and diffusion of wealth; mere higlers grew up unto opulent merchants, and the fishing towns of Holland already reckoned amongst their citizens individuals worth 200,000 dollars. The costly objects, that none but princes could before aspire to possess, became attainable by the commercial classes; and the increasing taste for plate and expensive furniture created a greater demand for gold and silver to be employed on those objects. Beyond all question, the value of those metals would have prodigiously advanced, had not the mines of America been then opportunely discovered.


Their discovery completely turned the scales. The rapid increase of the use and demand for gold and silver was far more than counterbalanced by the increasing supply, which completely glutted the market. Hence the great reduction of their value, which has been before observed upon, and which would have been far greater still, but for the concurrence of the circumstances just stated, whereby the value of silver, or its price in commodities at large, was checked in its fall, and limited to one-fourth, instead of being depressed in equal ratio with the increased supply, that is to say, to one-tenth.


This counteracting force must have escaped the penetration of Locke, or he would not have said, that the tenfold increase of silver, since the year 1500, necessarily raised the price of commodities in a tenfold degree. The few instances he might have cited in support of his position, were by no means sufficient to establish its accuracy; for a far greater number and variety of products might be mentioned, for which, as well as for silver, the demand compared with the supply had increased in the ratio of 2 ½ to 1, between 1500 and the date of the work of Locke in question. *21 But, although this may be true of some particular products, it may not be so of abundance of others, for some of which the demand has not advanced at all since 1500, while the supply of others has kept pace with the progressive demand, and consequently the ratio of their value remained stationary, with the exception of trifling temporary variations arising from causes of a nature wholly distinct; which, by the way, should teach us the necessity, in this science, of submitting insulated facts to the test of reasoning: for fact will not subvert theory, unless the whole of the facts applicable be taken into consideration, as well as the whole of the circumstances, that may vary the nature of those facts which is hardly possible in any case.


The writers of the Encyclopedie have fallen into the same error, in stating, *22 that a household establishment, wherein the silver plate should not have varied in quantity or quality from the middle of the sixteenth century to the present time, would be but one-tenth as rich in plate now as at the former period. Whereas, its comparative wealth would be reduced to one-fourth only; since, although the increase of supply has depressed that value to 10/100, the increase of demand, on the other hand, has raised it to 95/100. *23


The general use of silver amongst all the civilized nations of the world, coupled with its great facility of transport, makes it a commodity of such extensive demand, that none but a very large influx of fresh supply can sensibly affect its value. Thus, when Xenophon, in his essay on the revenues of Athens, urges his countrymen to give more assiduous attention to the working of the mines of Attica, by the suggestion, that silver does not, like other commodities, decline in value with the increase in quantity, he must be understood to say, that it does not perceptibly decline. Indeed, the mines of Attica were too inconsiderable in their product, to influence the value of the stock of that metal then existing in the numerous and flourishing states upon the borders of the Mediterranean Sea, and in Persia and India; between all which and Greece the commercial intercourse was sufficiently active, to keep the value of silver stationary in the Grecian market. The driblet of silver, furnished by Attician metallurgy, was a mere rivulet trickling into an ocean of existing supply. It was impossible for Xenophon to foresee the influx of the American torrent, or to guess at the consequence of its irruption.


If silver were, like corn and other fruits of the earth, an object of human food and sustenance, the enlargement of the sources of its supply would not have lowered its value; for the strong impulse of the human race, towards the multiplication of their species to a level with the means of subsistence, would have made the demand keep pace with the increase of supply. The tenfold multiplication of corn would be followed by a tenfold increase of the demand for it; inasmuch as it would engender new mouths to consume it; and corn would maintain nearly the same average of relative value to other commodities.


This will explain, why the variations of the value of silver are both slow in operation, and considerable in amount. Their slowness is owing to the universality of the demand, which prevents a moderate variation of supply from being sensibly felt; and their magnitude to the limited uses of the metal, which prevent the increase of demand from keeping pace with a rapid increase of supply.


Were the quantum of the supply alone to determine the exchangeable value of a commodity, silver would stand to gold in the ratio of 1 to 45; for silver and gold are produced by metallurgy as 45 to 1. *26 But the demand for silver is greater than for gold; its uses are both far more general and far more various; and thus its relative value is prevented from falling lower than 1 to 15.


If the nations of the world go on increasing their wealth, as most of them certainly have done for the last three centuries, their want of the precious metals will progressively advance, as well in consequence of the gradual wear, which will be greater in proportion to their increasing use, as of the multiplication and increased aggregate value of other commodities, which will create a larger demand for the purposes of transfer and circulation. If the produce of the mines do not keep pace with the increasing demand, the precious metals will rise in value, and less of them be given in exchange for other products in general. If the progress of mining shall keep pace with the advances of human industry, their value will remain stationary, as it seems to have done for the last two centuries; during which the demand and supply have regularly advanced together. *28 And, if the supply of those metals outrun the progress of general wealth, as it seems to be doing at this moment, they will fall in respect to other commodities at large. Metal-money will thereby be rendered more cumbrous; but the other uses of gold and silver will be more widely diffused.

The increased intensity of the demand for silver compared with its supply, consequent upon the discovery of America, is stated at 2½ to 1, because, but for this increase of demand, the tenfold supply would have reduced its value to one-tenth of what it had been previously to that event, and given to 100 oz. the value of 10 oz. only. But 100 oz. were only reduced to one-fourth of their former value, i. e. to the value of 25 oz.; which bears to 10 oz. the ratio of 2½ to 1. This could not have been the case, unless the demand for silver, compared with the supply, had advanced in that proportion. But the supply having increased tenfold in the same interval, if we would find the ratio of the actual increase of the demand for silver, whether for the purposes of circulation, of luxury, or of manufacture, since the first discovery of the American mines, we must multiply 2½ by 10, which will give 25. And probably this estimate will not exceed the truth, although 25 times may seem a prodigious advance. However, it would doubtless have been infinitely less considerable, but for the influx of supply from America; for the excessive dearness of silver would have greatly curtailed the use of it. Silver plate would probably be as rare as gold plate is now; and silver coin would be less abundant, because it would go further, and be of higher value.
We are assured by Humboldt, that the produce of the mines of Mexico has, in the last 100 years, been increased in the ratio of 110 to 25; also, that such is the abundance of silver ore, in the chain of the Andes, that, reckoning the number of veins either worked superficially, or not worked at all, one would be led to imagine, that Europe has hitherto had a mere sample of their incalculable stores. Essai Pol. sur la N. Espagne, 8vo. tom. iv. p. 149.

The very slight and gradual depreciation of gold and silver, effected by their immense and increasing annual supply, is one amongst many proofs of the rapid and general advance of human wealth, whereby the demand is made to keep pace with the supply. Yet I am inclined to think, that their value, after remaining nearly stationary for a century, has within the last thirty years begun again to decline. The setier of wheat, Paris measure, which was for a long time, on an average, sold for 4 oz. of silver, has now risen to 4½ oz., and rents are raised upon every renewal of lease. All other things seem to be rising in the like proportion: which indicates, that silver is undergoing a depreciation of relative value. *

* In a former note we referred to the great decline, since the year 1809, in the productiveness of the whole mines, both in this and in the eastern continent, on the authorities which Mr. Jacobs has given, in his learned work on the precious metals. From the same work, we here extract his concluding observations of the twenty-sixth chapter, in relation to the stock of coin now in existence, by which it will appear, that during the twenty years from 1810 to 1830, the diminution of gold and silver coin amounted to nearly one-sixth part of the whole stock.

"We have estimated," says Mr. Jacobs, "the stock of coin in existence at the end of the year 1809 to have been 380 million pounds; and the additions made to it between that period and the year 1829, at the rate of 5,186,800 pounds annually, would make it 103,736,000 pounds.

From the 380,000,000 of coin left in 1809, we deduct for loss by abrasion, at the rate of 1 part in 400 in each year, which in the 20 years would amount to 18,095,220 l., thus leaving in 1829,361,904,780l.
To which may be added the supply from the mines,103,736,000
Thus showing465,640,780l.
From which must be deducted that converted into utensils and ornaments,5,612,611
And that transferred into Asia,2,000,000
7,612,611 annually.
Or in twenty years,152,252,220
This would show the estimated amount at the end of 1829 to be,313,388,560l.
Or less than at the end of 1809,66,611,440l.
Or a diminution of nearly one-sixth part in the twenty years."

"During the period we have been considering, and indeed for many years before, the comparative value of gold to silver had scarcely experienced any alteration. According to the view here taken, the amount of gold applied to purposes of luxury had far exceeded that of silver, perhaps in the proportion of four to one; but, on the other hand, the treasure transferred to India and China has consisted chiefly of silver, and much more gold had been brought to Europe from those countries than had been conveyed to them. It has before (twenty-fifth chapter of this inquiry) been attempted to be shown that the durability of gold in coin is in the proportion of four to one greater than that of silver. It has, too, been shown that the recently increased produce of the mines of Russia has consisted chiefly of gold. These circumstances, on which our limits do not admit of enlargement, might be shown to be sufficient to account for the equable rate of value which has been preserved between the two metals during a long period." American Editor.

Book II, Chapter V




The causes, which determine the value of things, and which operate in the way described in the preceding chapters, apply without exception to all things possessed of value, however perishable; amongst others, therefore, to the productive service yielded by industry, capital, and land, in a state of productive activity. Those, who have had at their disposal any one of these three sources of production, are the venders of what we shall here denominate productive agency; and the consumers of its product are the purchasers. Its relative value, like that of every other commodity, rises in direct ratio to the demand, and inverse ratio to the supply.


True it is, that productive agents always endeavour to direct their agency to those employments, in which the profits are the greatest, and thus, by their competition, have as much tendency to lower price, as demand has to raise it; but the effects of competition can not always so nicely proportion the supply to the demand, as in every case to ensure an equal remuneration. Some kinds of labour are scantily supplied, in countries where people are not accustomed to them; and capital is often so sunk in a particular channel of production, that it can never be transferred to any other from that wherein it was originally embarked. Besides, the land may stubbornly resist that kind of cultivation, whose products are in the greatest demand.


When, besides expensive training, peculiar natural talent is required for a particular branch of industry, the supply is still more limited in proportion to the demand, and must consequently be better paid. A great nation will probably contain but two or three artists capable of painting a superior picture, or modelling a beautiful statue; if such objects, then, be much in demand, those few can charge almost what they please; and, though much of the profit is but the return with interest of capital advanced in the acquisition of their art, yet the profit it brings leaves a very large surplus. *43 A celebrated painter, advocate, or physician, will have spent, of his own or relations' money, six or eight thousand dollars at most, in acquiring the ability from which his gains are derived; the interest of this sum calculated as an annuity, is but 800 dollars; so that, if he make 6000 dollars by his art, there remains an annual sum of 3000 dollars, which is wholly the salary of his skill and industry. If every thing affording revenue is to be set down as property, his fortune at ten years' purchase may be reckoned 50,000 dollars, even supposing him not to have inherited a sol.


The price of their labour is regulated, like that of all other objects, by the ratio of the supply, or quantity of that labour thrown into circulation, to the demand or desire for it. There are two principal causes operating to limit the supply, which, consequently, maintain at a high rate the price of this superior kind of labour.


Simple, or rude labour may be executed by any man possessed of life and health; wherefore, bare existence is all that is requisite to insure a supply of this description of industry. Consequently, its wages seldom rise in any country much above what is absolutely necessary to subsistence; and the quantum of supply always remains on a level with the demand; nay, often goes beyond it; for the difficulty lies not in acquiring existence, but in supporting it. Whenever the mere circumstance of existence is sufficient for the execution of any kind of work, and that work affords the means of supporting existence, the vacuum is speedily filled up.


If the wages of the lowest class of labour were insufficient to maintain a family, and bring up children, its supply would never be kept up to the complement; the demand would exceed the supply in circulation; and its wages would increase, until that class were again enabled to bring up children enough to supply the deficiency.


The same may be said of most kinds of work performed by females. They are in general but poorly paid, because a large proportion of them are supported by other resources than those of their own industry, and can, therefore, supply the work they are capable of at a cheaper rate, than even the bare satisfaction of their wants. The work of the monastic order is similarly circumstanced. It is fortunate for the actual labourers in those countries where monarchism abounds, that it manufactures little else but trumpery; for, if its industry were applied to works of current utility, the necessitous labourers in the same department, having families to support, would be unable to work at so low a rate, and must absolutely perish by want and starvation. The wages of manufacturing, are often higher than those of agricultural labour; but they are liable to the most calamitous oscillation. War or legislative prohibition will sometimes suddenly extinguish the demand for a particular product, and reduce the industry employed upon it to a state of utter destitution. The mere caprice of fashion is often fatal to whole classes. The substitution of shoe ribands for buckles was a severe temporary blow to the population of Sheffield and Birmingham. *50


Now this portion of the gross sum called interest is larger in proportion as the supply of capital available for loans is less; and as the demand of capital for that specific object is greater; and again, that demand is the greater in proportion to the more numerous and more lucrative employments of capital. Consequently, a rise in the rate of interest does not infallibly or universally denote, that capital is growing scarcer; for possibly, it may be a sign, that its uses are multiplied. Smith has remarked this consequence upon the close of the very successful war on the part of England, which terminated with the peace of 1763. *63 The rate of interest then advanced instead of declining; the important acquisitions of England had opened a new field for her commercial enterprise and speculation; capital was not diminished in quantity, but the demand for it was increased; and the rise of interest, which ensued, though in most cases a sign of impoverishment, was, in this, a consequence of the acquisition of new sources of wealth.


Wherefore, it is a great abuse of words, to talk of the interest of money; and probably this erroneous expression has led to the false inference, that the abundance or scarcity of money regulates the rate of interest. *68 Law, Montesquieu, nay, even the judicious Locke, in a work expressly treating of the means of lowering the interest of money, have all fallen into this mistake; and it is no wonder that others should have been misled by their authority. The theory of interest was wrapped in utter obscurity, until Hume and Smith *69 dispelled the vapour. Nor will it ever be clearly comprehended, except by such as shall have acquired a correct notion of what has, throughout this work, been denominated capital, and shall proceed in the conviction, that the object lent or borrowed, is not a particular commodity or object of merchandise, but a portion of value,—of the aggregate value of the capital available for that object; and that the per centage paid for the use of this portion of capital, at all times and places, depends on the relative supply and demand of capital to be lent, and is wholly independent of the specific form or quality of the commodity, wherein the loan is made, whether it be money, or any other article whatever.


In short, in this matter, as in all others, where the interests of mankind clash one with another, the ratio is determined by the relative demand and supply for each mode of employment of capital respectively.

This is no contradiction to the former position, that the precious metals form part of the capital of society. They form an item of capital, but not of disposable, or lendable capital; for they are already employed, and not in search of employment;—employed in the business of circulating value from one hand to another. If their supply exceed the demand for this object, they are sent to other parts, where their price continues higher; if their general abundance lower their price everywhere, the sum of their value is not increased, but a larger quantity of them is given in exchange for the same value in other commodities.

Land is an agent gratuitously furnished to mankind at large, by whom it is afterwards exclusively appropriated; but its appropriation does not begin to be profitable to the individual, in whose favour it is made, until its products are an object of demand, and until their supply ceases to be co-extensive with the desire for them, as it is with respect to some other natural objects, air, water, &c.


Whence we may draw this invariable maxim; that the productive agency of land is possessed of value, which value, like value in general, increases in the direct ratio of the demand, and the inverse ratio of the supply; and that, since land differs as much in quality, as in site and position, there is a peculiar demand and supply for each peculiar quality. A demand for so much wine, more or less, whatever it arise from, creates a specific demand for as much productive agency of the soil, as may be requisite for its growth; *78 and the extent of surface, adapted to the culture of the grape, determines the supply of that productive service. If the soil, capable of growing good wine, be very limited in extent, and the demand for such wine very brisk, the profit of the soil itself will be extravagantly high.

Destutt de Tracy. Commentaire sur l'Esprit de Lois, c. 13. Ricardo *Prin. Of Pol. Econ. and Tax. c. 2.

* This chapter of Ricardo is perhaps the least satisfactory and intelligible of his whole work. It goes upon the principle detailed by Malthus, in his Essay on Rent; viz. that the ratio of rent is determined by the difference in the product of land of different qualities, the worst land in cultivation yielding no rent at all. But there is a great deal of land yielding rent without any cultivation; and, in a country where the whole of the land is appropriated, none is ever cultivated without paying some rent or other. The downs of Wiltshire yield a rent, without any labour, or capital, being expended upon them; so likewise the forests of Norway; this rent is the natural product of the soil; it is paid for the perception of that natural product, between which, and the desire for it, an artificial difficulty is interposed by human appropriation. The whole rent is, therefore, referable, not to the quality of the land only, but to the quality jointly with the appropriation; and so it is in all cases. Wherever a difficulty is thus interposed, rent will be paid upon all land brought into cultivation; for why should the proprietor part with the temporary possession for nothing, any more than the capitalist with his capital? And the ratio of rent is determined, not altogether by the quality of the soil, but by the intensity—1. Of the desire, or demand for its productive agency; 2. Of the artificial difficulty interposed by nature and human appropriation. The quality of the soil may vary the intensity of the demand for it beyond all question; for the quality is the productive agency: but the supply of agricultural industry and capital in the market will also vary the proportion of its product, which industry and capital will expect for themselves. Why is rent highest, when a population is condensed on a limited territorial surface? because then the utility of its productive qualities is more strongly felt and desired, in consequence of their intense difficulty and attainment. And why is rent still further raised by the prohibition of the import of products of external agriculture? because the natural difficulty of obtaining the benefit of the productive agency of foreign land is aggravated, by the artificial difficulty interposed by legislative enactments. The degree of productive agency, of course, affects the amount of the product; but rent originates in the union of that agency, or utility, with difficulty of attainment, natural and artificial, and is regulated in its ratio by their combined intensity. Translator.

It is evident, that the interference of public authority in regulating the details of the manufacture, supposing it to succeed in making the manufacturer produce goods of the best quality, which is very problematical, must be quite ineffectual in promoting their consumption; for it can give the consumer, neither the taste of what is of the better quality, nor the ability to purchase. The difficulty lies, not in finding a producer, but in finding a consumer. It will be no hard matter to supply good and elegant commodities, if there be consumers both willing and able to purchase them. But such a demand can exist only in nations enjoying comparative affluence; it is affluence, that both furnishes the means of buying articles of good quality, and gives a taste for them. Now the interference of authority is not the road to affluence, which results from activity of production, seconded by the spirit of frugality;—from habits of industry pervading every channel of occupation, and of frugality tending to accumulation of capital. In a country, where these qualities are prevalent, and in no other, can individuals be at all nice or fastidious in what they consume. On the contrary, profusion and embarrassment are inseparable companions; there is no choice when necessity drives.


The favour shown them by the public authority, in the gratuitous supply of the capital and buildings, and in many other particulars, would make them interfere with private undertakings, were they not subject, on the other hand, to some peculiar disadvantages. They are obliged to confine their operations to such kinds of work, as sort with the feebleness and general inferiority in skill of the inmates, and can not direct them to such as may be most in demand. Moreover, it is in most of them a matter of regulation and police, to lay by always the third or fourth part of the labourer's wages or earnings, as a capital to set him up, on his quitting the establishment: this is an excellent precaution, but prevents their working at such cheap rates, as to drive all competition out of the market.


Taxation, pushed to the extreme, has the lamentable effect of impoverishing the individual, without enriching the state. We may readily conceive how this can happen, if we recall to our attention the former position; viz. that each tax-payer's consumption, whether productive or not, is always limited to the amount of his revenue. No part of his revenue, therefore, can be taken from him without necessarily curtailing his consumption in the same ratio. This must needs reduce the demand for all those objects he can no longer consume, and particularly those affected by taxation. The diminution of demand must be followed by diminution of the supply of production; and, consequently, of the articles liable to taxation. Thus, the tax-payer is abridged of his enjoyments, the producer of his profits, and the public exchequer of its receipts. *71


The direct taxation of the productive classes must, à fortìori, affect the consumers of their products, but can never raise the prices of those products so much, as completely to indemnify the producer; because, as I have repeatedly explained, the increased price abridges the demand, and the contraction of the demand reduces the profits of all the productive agency, that has been exerted in the supply.


Of the concurrent producers of a specific product, some can more easily evade the effect of the tax than others. The capitalist, whose capital is not absolutely vested and sunk in a particular business, may withdraw it and transfer it elsewhere, from a concern that yields him a reduced interest, or has become more hazardous. The adventurer or master-manufacturer may, in many cases, liquidate his account, and transfer his labour and intelligence to some other quarter. Not so the land-owner and proprietor of fixed capital. *99 An acre of vineyard or corn-land will only produce a given quantity of corn or wine, whatever be the ratio of taxation; which may take the ½ or even ¾ of the net produce, or rent as it is called, and yet the land be tilled for the sake of the remaining ½ or ¼. *100 The rent, that is to say, the portion assigned to the proprietor, will be reduced, and that is all. The reason will be manifest to any one, who considers, that in the case supposed, the land continues to raise and supply the market with the same amount of produce as before; while on the other hand, the motives in which the demand originates remain just as they were. *101 If, then, the intensity of supply and demand must both remain the same, in spite of any increase or diminution of the ratio of the direct taxation upon the land, the price of the product supplied will likewise remain unchanged, and nothing but a change of price can saddle the consumer with any portion whatever of that taxation. *102

There is this peculiarity attending the products of agricultural industry, viz. that their average price is not raised by growing scarcity, because population is sure to decline co-extensively with the declining supply of human aliment; so that the demand necessarily diminishes equally with the supply. Thus it is not found, that wheat is dearer in those countries where great part of the land is thrown out of tillage, than where it is all in a high state of cultivation. In Spain, wheat is not now dearer, than in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, though it is there produced in much less abundance; for the number of mouths to be fed is also much less. On the contrary, the lands of both England and France were less cultivated in the middle ages than at the present day; and their product of grain less abundant; yet it does not appear, from a comparison of other values, that it was then much dearer than at present. The product and the population were both greatly inferior; and the slackness of demand counter-balanced the slackness of supply.
It is a mistake to suppose, that the tax must bear equally upon the proprietor and the farmer, who finds the requisite capital and industry; for taxation can have no effect, either in reducing the quantity of land capable of cultivation, or in multiplying the number of farmers, able and willing to undertake it; and, if neither supply nor demand in this branch be varied, the ratio of the rent must needs remain unaltered likewise.