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|Economic Harmonies; Bastiat, Frédéric|
5 paragraphs found.
Let us make a purely economic observation here. However extensive our productive capacities may be, they cannot go so far as to enable us to
create. It is not given to man, in fact, to add to or subtract from the existing number of molecules. His role is confined to modifying or combining for his use the substances he finds everywhere about him. (J. B. Say.)
Population, it has been said, tends to keep at the level of the means of subsistence. Let me note that for this term, the
means of subsistence, once universally accepted, J. B. Say has substituted another term that is much more accurate:
the means of existence. At first glance it would appear that
subsistence alone is involved in this question. Such is not the case.
Man does not live by bread alone, and a study of the facts shows clearly that population stops increasing or declines when the sum total of all the means of existence, including clothing, housing, and the other things that climate or even habit render necessary, becomes insufficient.
The consequences of man's being thus constituted are many; we shall confine ourselves to mentioning just a few of them. First, we readily admit with the economists that population and the means of existence reach an equilibrium; but since the means of existence are capable of infinite fluctuation and vary with the civilization and the habits of life that produce them, we cannot agree, as we compare different peoples and classes, that population is proportional to
production, as stated by J. B. Say,
or to income, as affirmed by M. de Sismondi. Furthermore, since every step up the ladder of culture implies a higher degree of foresight, the moral and preventive check must more and more neutralize the action of the brutish and repressive check, according as progress is achieved in society or in any of its segments. It follows that any social progress contains within itself the seed of still further progress.
Vires acquirit eundo, since improved standards of living and greater foresight engender one another in indefinite succession. Similarly, when, for whatever reason, mankind retrogresses, want and improvidence exert a cause-and-effect action upon each other, and the decline would never be halted if society had not been provided with that self-healing faculty, the
vis medicatrix, which Providence has implanted in all living organisms. We may observe, in fact, that during every stage of a period of decline the action of the law of limitation in its destructive form becomes progressively more painful and more readily discernible. At first there is merely a backward movement, a decline in the standard of living; later come poverty, hunger, disorders, war, death—painful but unfailing methods of instruction.
Labor, we have said, is the sole article of exchange. In order to secure a utility (unless Nature gives it to us gratis), we must go to the pains of producing it or repay with equivalent pains the persons who have taken the pains for us. Man creates absolutely nothing. He can merely arrange, reorder, or transport for a useful end things already existing. He performs none of these acts without taking pains, and the fruit of his pains is his property. If he surrenders it to another, he has the right to receive in return a service judged to be equivalent after free bargaining. This is the principle of value, of compensation, of exchange; and simple though it is, it is nonetheless true. In what we call
commodities there exist varying degrees of
natural utility and of
man-made utility. The latter, in which alone the idea of labor is implicit, is the sole subject of human transactions; and, without in any way taking exception to the famous and useful formula of J. B. Say: "Products are exchanged for products," I accept the following as being more scientifically accurate:
Labor is exchanged for labor, or rather,
services are exchanged for services.
[Charles Comte (1782-1837), French economist, son-in-law of J. B. Say. Co-editor, with Charles Dunoyer, of
Le Censeur européen.—Translator.]