The Character and Logical Method of Political Economy
3. See an article in the Edinburgh Review, April 1854, on 'The Consumption of Food in the United Kingdom,' and compare this with the celebrated 'Merchants' Petition' of 1820, the production of Mr. Tooke. With reference to the former I may quote the remark of Mr. Tooke:—"It is necessary, even in setting forth the successes of a just policy, that no violence should be done to established modes of reasoning, or to the facts of the case as they really exist."
4. The error as to method complained of is the opposite of that of 'anticipatio naturæ,' which was the bane of science when Bacon wrote, and against which his most vigorous attacks were directed. Nevertheless (and it is a proof as well of the philosophic sagacity for which he was so distinguished, as of the perfect sobriety of his mind), the great reformer was not so carried away by his opposition to the prevailing abuse, as to overlook the danger of its opposite. In the following passage he describes with singular accuracy, both the error itself to which I have adverted, and the causes of it. "Quod si etiam scientiam quandam, et dogmata ex experimentis moliantur; tamen semper fere studio præpropero et intempestivo deflectunt ad praxin: non tantum propter usum et fructum ejusmodi praxeos; sed ut in opere aliquo novo veluti pignus sibi arripiant, se non inutiliter in reliquis versaturos: atque etiam aliis se venditent, ad existimationem meliorem comparandam de iis in quibus occupati sunt. Ita fit, ut, more Atalantæ de via decedant ad tollendum aureum pomum; interim vero cursum interrumpant, et victoriam emittant e manibus."—'Novum Organum,' lib. i. aph. 70.
7. Que l'économie politique no s'occupe que des intérêts de cette vie, c'est une chose évidente, avouée. Chaque science a son objet qui lui est propre. Si elle sortait de ce monde, ce ne serait plus de l'économie politique, ce serait la théologie. On ne doit pas plus lui demander compte de ce qui se passe dans un monde meilleur, qu'on ne doit demander à la physiologie comment s'opère la digestion dans l'estomac des anges."—'Cours Complet d'Economie Politique,' par J. B. Say, tom. i. p. 48, troisiême édition.
9. Rent and profit possess under their superficial aspects so many attributes in common that it is not strange there should be a disposition to identify them as economic phenomena of the same kind. Among French economists in particular this view is nearly universal; not merely M. Say and those who have generally followed him, but that much abler thinker and clearer expositor, the late M. Cherbuliez, of Geneva, having so conceived the phenomena. It may be well, therefore, to set down briefly the facts which justify the distinction. 1. The rate of profit falls, that of rent rises with the progress of society: the latter attains its maximum in old communities such as ours, precisely where the former attains its minimum. 2. Rent and profit stand in different relations to price: e.g., a rise of agricultural prices, if permanent, would imply, other things being the same, a rise of rent, but it would not imply or be attended with a rise of agricultural profits; on the contrary, agricultural profits, and profits generally, would most probably fall as a consequence of a rise in agricultural prices. 3. A tax on the profits of any particular branch of industry would raise prices in that industry; the receivers of profits would be thus enabled to transfer the burden of the tax to the consumers of the commodities they produce. A tax on rent would have no corresponding effect on agricultural prices, and would rest definitively on the owners of the soil. 4. Variations in rents are slow, and, as a rule, in an upward direction; in profits, still more in interest, variations are frequent and rapid, and not in any constant direction.
11. M. Say, it is true, in another part of his work (vol. ii. p. 45), states the law of wages correctly as depending on demand and supply, but the doctrine alluded to in the text is no less distinctly stated. The doctrines are, no doubt, irreconcilable; but with this I am not concerned.
12. Sir John Herschel's explanation of the failure is substantially the same. "Aristotle," he says, "at least saw the necessity of having recourse to nature for something like principles of physical science; and, as an observer, a collector, and recorder of facts and phenomena, stood without an equal in his age. It was the fault of that age, and of the perverse and flimsy style of verbal disputation which had infected all learning, rather than his own, that he allowed himself to be contented with vague and loose notions drawn from general and vulgar observation, in place of seeking carefully, in well arranged and thoroughly considered instances, for the true laws of nature."
15. This doctrine has been denied, and some curious arguments have been advanced in refutation of it. The topic most insisted on by those who controvert it is the superior productiveness of agricultural industry in the United Kingdom at present, as compared with that which prevailed in former periods, notwithstanding the greater amount of capital now employed in agriculture. This argument would be good for something if all the other conditions of the problem were the same; but it is certain that they are not the same, and that they differ precisely in the point that is of importance—the superior skill with which capital and industry are at present applied. No economist that I am aware of has ever said that a small and unskilful application of capital to land would necessarily be attended with greater proportional returns than a larger outlay more skilfully applied: and it is to this assertion only that the argument in question applies.
But it is important to remark that the attempt to meet the doctrine in question by statistical data implies (as will hereafter more clearly appear) a total misconception, both of the fact which is asserted, and of the kind of proof which an economic doctrine requires. The doctrine contains, not an historic generalization to be tested by documentary evidence, but a statement as to an existing physical fact, which if seriously questioned, can only be conclusively determined by actual experiment upon the existing soil. If anyone denies the fact, it is open to him to refute it by making the experiment. Let him show that he can obtain from a limited area of soil any required quantity of produce by simply increasing the outlay—that is to say, that, by quadrupling or decupling the outlay, he can obtain a quadruple or decuple return. If it be asked why those who maintain the affirmative of the doctrine do not establish their view by actual experiment, the answer is, that the experiment is performed for them by every practical farmer; and that the fact of the diminishing productiveness of the soil is proved by their conduct in preferring to resort to inferior soils rather than force unprofitably soils of better quality.
Mr. Carey, the American economist, has endeavoured to meet this reasoning by urging that the conduct of farmers in resorting to inferior soils after the better qualities have been all taken into cultivation no more constitutes a proof that industry on the superior soils has become less productive, than the conduct of a cotton-spinner in building a second factory when his first is full, is a proof that manufacturing industry tends to become less productive as manufacturing capital and labour increase. This is, in other words, to say that the reason farmers do not increase their outlay on the soils of superior quality is, not because it would be unprofitable to do so, but for the same reason which limits, the amount of capital and the number of hands employed in a cotton mill, namely, that the necessary conditions of space being taken into account, it would be impossible to do so. No one who holds the received theory of rent will hesitate to stake the doctrine upon this issue. When any sane farmer in the United Kingdom, or in any other quarter of the civilized world, will give the same answer to the question—'Why he does not manure more highly, or drain more deeply, or plough more frequently, a given field?' which Mr. Carey gives, viz. 'want of room,' the disciples of Ricardo will be prepared to abandon their master; but till this specimen of bucolic exegesis is produced, they will probably retain their present views.
17. To be distinguished from another question with which it is commonly confounded, viz., how far should economic considerations be made subordinate to considerations of morality in the art of government?
"Quest-ce qu'une vérité scientifique? C'est l'expression d'une idée, ou d'une loi générale, à laquelle notre intelligence arrive en partant de certaines données fournies par l'observation immédiate. Nous analysons un certain nombre de phénomènes pour en tirer ce qu'ils ont de commun; puis nous raisonnons d'après ces résultats de l'analyse, pour construire une théorie scientifique. Si nous avons bien observé, si notre raisonnement a été correct, la conséquence est aussi vraie que la donnée générale d'oł elle découle, mais elle ne peut l'être davantage, ni d'une autre manière. Or, la donnée générale n'est pas une réalité; elle n'est qu'une abstraction, au moins dans la plupart des cas. Pour l'obtenir, qu'avons-nous fait? Nous avons dépouillé les phénomènes réels de ce qui les rendait complexes et divers, pour ne voir que ce qu'ils avaient de commun. Le résultat de cette analyse peut donc fort bien ne représenter rien de réel, ne ressembler exactement à aucun des phénomènes complexes de la réalité. Des lors, la théorie, la loi, que nous construisons d'après ce résultat, peut aussi ne se vérifier dans aucun des faits que nous verrons s'accomplir sous nos yeux. Cette théorie, cette loi n'en sera pas moins une vérité scientifique." Tome I. pp. 10, 11.
20. "Ce serait avec aussi peu de fondement et aussi peu de succès que vous attaqueriez la théorie du libre échange en alléguant que certains pays ont atteint, sous un régime de restrictions et d'entraves, un très-haut degré de prospérité, tandis que d'autres pays, qui jouissaient d'une liberté de commerce comparativement fort grande, sont restés en arrière des premiers dans leur développement économique. On vous répondrait que la prospérité économique est le résultat complexe de plusieurs causes, parmi lesquelles il peut y en avoir de plus puissantes que la liberté. La théorie que vous attaquez n'est point formulée en ces termes, que le développement économique des sociétés est proportionnel an degré de liberté dont elles jouissent, mais dans ceux-ci: que la liberté du commerce est plus favorable à ce développement que les entraves et les restrictions, vérité contre laquelle votre objection ne saurait avoir aucune force, puisque les faits allégués ne lui sont nullement contraires. Ces faits prouvent seulement que le développement économique est un phénomène complexe, et que, chez les nations signalées par vous comme fournissant une preuve de l'inefficacité du libre échange, l'action de ce principe a été neutralisée par d'autres causes, telle que la situation géographique, ou l'insécurité résultant de mauvaises lois, qui ont agi en sens opposé."—Précis de la Science Économique, Tome I: pp. 13, 14.
21. Mr. Jennings ('Natural Elements of Political Economy,' p. 4) disposes of this defence of economic doctrine in the following fashion:—"The doubting pupil is now dismissed with the assurance that the principles of Political Economy which he has been taught, if not true, have a tendency to be true; that if found imperfect in the abstract (quære, concrete?) they are perfect in the concrete (quære, abstract), and that an allowance must always be made for the influence of disturbing causes."
I don't know that any further reply need be made to this than that given in the text, namely, that whatever be the value of the objection, it applies with equal force to all sciences whatever which have reached the deductive stage. In no other sense is a dynamical law true than as expressing 'a tendency' influencing matter. Whether the result in any given case be such as the law asserts, will depend, whatever be the branch of speculation, upon whether the necessary ceteris paribus, implied in its statement, is realized. The reason that attention has been drawn more to the influence of disturbing causes in the political and moral than in the physical sciences is sufficiently obvious. In those physical sciences which are sciences of observation, as Astronomy, the principles are few in number and perfectly definite in character; while in those physical sciences, as, e.g., Chemistry, in which the principles are more numerous and complex, we can avail ourselves of experiment. In the former case all, or nearly all, the causes influencing the result are known and their effect may be calculated; in the latter, all that are not required may be eliminated. But in the moral and political sciences, in which we have to deal with human interests and passions, the agencies in operation at any given time in any given society are numerous, while, being in this case precluded from experiment, we are unable to prepare the conditions beforehand with a view to preserving the necessary ceteris paribus.
26. Discoveries, that is to say, of ultimate laws. As Mr. Mill has shown, the law of complex effects is not amenable to the method of simple induction, even when experiment may be conducted under the most rigid conditions. 'Logic,' book iii. chaps. x. and xi.
37. "For example: the return of the comet predicted by Professor Encke, a great many times in succession, and the general good agreement of its calculated with its observed place during any one of its periods of visibility, would lead us to say that its gravitation towards the sun and planets is the sole and sufficient cause of all the phenomena of its orbitual motion; but when the effect of this cause is strictly calculated and subducted from the observed motion, there is found to remain behind a residual phenomenon, which would never have been otherwise ascertained to exist, which is a small anticipation, of the time of its reappearances or a small diminution of its periodic time, which cannot be accounted for by gravity, and whose cause is therefore to be inquired into. Such an anticipation would be caused by the resistance of a medium disseminated through the celestial regions; and as there are other good reasons for believing this to be a vera causa, it has, therefore been ascribed to such a resistance."—Herschel's Natural Philosophy, p. 156.
38. To such an extent did this delusion prevail, that the celebrated Bullion Committee of 1810, in its admirable though not faultless report, finding that the note circulation had at that time increased in amount, and concluding from other considerations that it was excessive, took it for granted, without inquiry, that 'the prices of all commodities had risen.' (Report p. 11.) I say, without inquiry, 1st, because no witnesses with reference to this point were examined; and 2nd, because, had they inquired, it is certain they would have found the facts to be precisely the reverse of what they had assumed; the reaction consequent upon the excessive speculation of 1809 and 1810 having then taken place, and the general markets being in a state of extraordinary depression. Vide Tooke's 'History of Prices,' vol. i., chap. 5, section 2. Mr. Huskisson, in his 'Question, &c., stated,' also makes the same assumption.
39. It is not to be supposed that the discrepancy alluded to goes the length of invalidating the elementary law that, ceteris paribus, the value of money is inversely as its quantity. This still rests upon the same basis of mental and physical facts as every other doctrine of Political Economy, and must always constitute a fundamental principle in the theory of money. It merely showed that in the practical case the condition ceteris paribus was not fulfilled. The fact in question is no more inconsistent with the economic law, than the non-correspondence of a complex mechanical phenomenon with what a knowledge of the elementary laws of mechanics might lead a tyro to expect, is inconsistent with these elementary laws. A guinea dropped through the air from a height falls to the ground more quickly than a feather; yet no one would on this account deny the doctrine that the accelerating power of gravity is the same for all bodies.
41. When the cost of producing agricultural produce is spoken of as determining its value, the reader will understand that I always speak of the cost of that portion which is raised at greatest expense.
42. It is contended by Mr. Macleod ('Theory and Practice of Banking,' vol. i. p. 13) that it is not the cost of production which regulates the value of agricultural produce, but the value which regulates the cost. It is, no doubt, true, that in the case of agricultural produce a rise in its value, or (supposing the value of money to be constant) in its price, is generally followed by an increased cost of production. On the other hand, a rise in the price of a manufactured article generally leads to a diminished cost; and it would be just as reasonable to say that price regulates cost of production in one case as in the other. What price really regulates is the quantity that shall be produced; an advance in the price of an article beyond its normal level always indicating that the supply is insufficient and thus leading to increased production. Now it so happens that, in the case of agricultural produce, the smaller the quantity required the less the proportional cost at which it can be obtained, it being the less necessary to resort to any but the most fertile soils; and hence it arises that every advance in price, leading to increased production, is followed generally by increased cost. On the other hand, in the case of manufactured articles, the larger the scale of production, the less generally the proportional cost, owing to the greater room thus afforded for the use of machinery and the division of labour; and, accordingly, the advance in price in this case, leading also to extended production, is generally followed by a diminished cost.
It is evident that in neither case is the cost regulated by the price, but by the quantity required, together with the physical and mechanical conditions under which the article is produced. On the other hand, it is certain that, in both cases, cost is the regulator of price, since whatever be the cost at which the quantity required is produced—whether it be raised or lowered by the extended production—this cost is the point about which the price will permanently oscillate.
Mr. Macleod says that the doctrine that cost of production regulates value means "that a perseverance in producing any article at great expense, if continued long enough, would in the end succeed in raising its value." Mr. Macleod, of course, means 'continued long enough' at an unremunerating price (for if the price were remunerating, it would be in proportion to cost of production, and there would be no point in the argument); but such a case is economically impossible. All Ricardo's reasonings, indeed the reasonings of all economists that I have met with except Mr. Macleod, proceed upon the assumption that self-interest is the motive to production. A case, therefore, which supposes 'a perseverance in producing' without an adequate remuneration—that is to say, without an adequate motive—is simply out of the pale of Political Economy. Cost of production would not indeed, under the circumstances supposed, regulate value; but no more would demand and supply, nor any other principle that can be imagined. 'Value,' in short, would no longer have any meaning, since exchange, with the feelings of self-interest, which dictate it, would cease to exist.
46. Ante, p. 82.
48. This remark might, perhaps, be extended to embrace the organic sciences in general. The laws of organic development, for example, expressing general tendencies, are never formulated in other than general terms. See ' Habit and Intelligence,' by J. J. Murphy, vol. i., pp. 201, 202, 212.
49. Mr. Macleod considers Monetary Science (which he appears to regard as commensurate or nearly so with Political Economy), as 'an exact science.' In the Introduction to his 'Theory and Practice of Banking,' vol. ii., p. 25, he writes as follows:—"These principles then act with unerring certainty—they are universally true—human instinct is as certain, invariable, and universal in its nature as the laws of motion—AND THAT IS THE CIRCUMSTANCE WHICH RAISES MONETARY SCIENCE TO THE RANK OF AN EXACT OR INDUCTIVE SCIENCE. It is this which renders it possible to establish it upon as sure, solid, and unimperishable a basis as mechanical science. Alone of all the political sciences its phenomena may be expressed with the unerring certainty of the other laws of nature." (The capitals are the Author's.) Mr. Macleod seems to confound an 'exact' with a positive science. In order that a science be 'exact,' it is necessary, not only that its premisses be 'universal and invariable,' but further, that they be susceptible of precise quantitative statement. If Mr. Macleod can show that both these conditions are satisfied in the present instance,—that the character of 'human instinct' can be known, and also that its force can be measured, as the force of gravitation, he will then have established a basis for an exact science of Political Economy.
Mr. Jennings, in his 'Natural Elements of Political Economy,' appears to take the same view. "Our instruments," he says, "though acting on and through the principles of human nature, are found to consist of metallic indices [money] related as parts and multiples, and not less capable of being made subservient to the processes of exact calculation than are the instruments of any purely physical act. The results of these principles when observed may be expressed in figures; as may also the anticipated results of their future operation, or such relations as those of Quantity and Value, Value and Rate of Production may be exhibited in the formulæ and analyzed by the different methods of Algebra and of Fluxions."—pp. 259-260.
There is no doubt that economic results when they have happened may be expressed in figures; but I apprehend something more than this is requisite to render a science 'exact.' Mr. Jennings indeed adds, 'as may also the anticipated results of their future operation;' but the question is, have we such data as will warrant us in accepting as trustworthy the results thus obtained? Will our calculations turn out, not merely generally, but 'exactly' true? Instead of dealing in general terms, let us take a specific case—the determination of the price of corn—and consider what in this instance would be necessary in order to arrive at an 'exact' result. The following is taken from Tooke's 'History of Prices':—"But, further,—supposing that both the results of the harvests and the stock on hand were made known with sufficient approach to accuracy by Government returns, there would yet remain the greatest uncertainty in the corn markets unless the probable extent of the Supplies from abroad could be known. And, granting all these grounds for estimates of actual and forthcoming supplies to be within the power of Government to ascertain, there would be yet another influence on prices,—and consequently a cause of fluctuation,—namely, the speculative views operating on the minds of both buyers and sellers in the contemplation of circumstances likely to affect the produce of the next ensuing harvest. From the time of sowing to that of gathering the wheat crop, the casualties of the weather exercise an influence on the markets, and thus cause fluctuations at critical periods of the season. Among the claims put forth for agricultural statistics, it has been required, as a part of the information insisted upon, that there should be periodical Government returns of the appearance of the growing crops.
"These, and other contingencies more or less important, are causes of fluctuation from uncertainty of supply. But assuming, for mere argument sake, the statistics of supply to be perfect, there still remain the uncertainties of demand.
"For the reasons which I have before stated, the variations of consumption are on a much smaller scale than those of supply; but the demand on the markets may occasionally have a considerable temporary influence on prices, as in the case of the autumn of 1854, of the millers and bakers trying to get into stock, after having left themselves bare. There may likewise be a demand for Exportation to France or to other parts of the Continent. How could any information from Government have supplied the statistics of such a demand? But adopting the extreme and extravagant hypothesis, that all these elements of uncertainty admitted of having great light thrown upon them by statistics and other information published by Government, there would still remain to be solved the problem of what the price ought in consequence to be; and this, I will venture to say, will be found to be an insoluble problem."—Vol. v., pp. 88, 89.
In order that the problems of Political Economy should be made subservient to 'exact' treatment, it would be necessary, not only that 'the instruments, on and through which the principles of human nature [in the pursuit of wealth] act,' should be capable of quantitative measurement, but also that the principles themselves, as well as the conditions under which they come into operation, should be susceptible of exact numerical statement. The most perfect system of weights and measures would never have made chemistry an exact science, if the law of equivalent proportions had not been discovered.
Some forcible remarks. in the same sense will be found in the Philosophic Positive, tome iv., pp. 512, 513. The attempt to employ mathematical formulæ in inquiries of the social order M. Comte regards as ' l'involontaire témoignage décisif d'une profonde impuissance philosophique.'
On this Mr. Tooke remarks:—"It is perhaps superfluous to add that no such strict rule can be deduced; at the same time there is ground for supposing that the estimation is not very wide of the truth, from observation of the repeated occurrence of the fact, that the price of corn in this country has risen from 100 to 200 per cent. and upwards, when the utmost computed deficiency of the crops has not been more than between one-sixth and one-third below an average, and when that deficiency has been relieved by foreign supplies."—History of Prices, vol. i. p. 12.
51. "In such a case," says Sir John Herschel, "when we reason upward till we reach an ultimate fact, we regard a phenomenon as fully explained; as we consider the branch of a tree to terminate when traced to its insertion in the trunk, or a twig to its junction in the branch; or, rather, as a rivulet retains its importance and its name till lost in some larger tributary, or in the main river which delivers it to the ocean. This, however, always supposes that, on a reconsideration of the case, we see clearly how the admission of such a fact, with all its attendant laws, will perfectly account for every particular."—Natural Philosophy, p. 163.
54. As if in compensation for the prevalent disposition to rest economic principles on statistical data, the writer in the Examiner reverses the process, and endeavours to deduce from economic principles (or what he takes for them) matters of fact which are capable of being proved by statistical evidence. In this way, in the article from which I have quoted, he attempts to prove that the stock of silver in the world has, since the Australian and Californian discoveries, been increased by an amount equal to 118,750,000l. The following is his argument.:—
The increase of gold he takes during the last nine years as 125,000,000l.; but silver in relation to gold has during that interval risen only 5 per cent.; therefore the stock of silver has increased by the same amount (viz. 125,000,000l.) minus 5 per cent., or 118,750,000l.; adding, in further explanation, that the rise in the price of silver would "act as a premium on its production."
It is evident that the suppressed premiss of this argument is, that the relative quantities of the two metals vary always directly as their values; but on this assumption the increase in the stock of silver would be very much greater than the Examiner makes it out; since, according to all estimates on the subject, the stock of silver in existence in 1848, when the Californian discoveries took place, was at least one-half greater than that of gold. If, then, the correspondence in their values indicates a like correspondence in their relative quantities, instead of an addition of 118,750,000l. to the stock of silver previously existing, we should have an addition of 178,125,000l., or an average annual production of silver since 1848 of about 22,000,000l.
But, in the next place, the assumption of a constant connection between the quantity and the value of the precious metals is directly at variance with the doctrine which it is the object of the article to establish—namely, that an increased production of gold has no tendency to affect its value. The writer starts by assuming that the value of silver must be regulated by its quantity, and then proceeds to prove that the quantity of gold can have no influence on its value. Gold, we are told, has not fallen in value, notwithstanding the increase in its quantity, and then it is argued that silver must have increased in quantity pari passu with gold, or else its value would not have fallen with the value of gold.
Had the writer taken the trouble to refer to the statistics which are available on the subject, he would perhaps have seen reason to doubt the soundness of his economic views. If the reader will turn to the sixth vol. of Tooke's 'History of Prices,' Appendix XXVI., he will find returns of the importation of silver from the various producing countries during the last eight years, and estimates from these and other sources of the total annual production during the same time, in a compendious and convenient form. From these it appears that the annual production, of silver, which, according to M. Chevalier's estimate, was 8,720,000l. in 1848, will, in the opinion of Mr. Newmarch, based upon the statistics which he has given, have risen to about 12,000,000l. for the present year—being equivalent to an increase of about 37 per cent. on the previous annual supply; the annual supply of gold during the same period having increased by about 300 per cent.
There seems indeed every reason to suppose, from the facts stated by M. de Humboldt and M. Chevalier, in their treatises on the Production of the Precious Metals, respecting the silver mines in Mexico and Peru still unworked, as well as from the recent discoveries of quicksilver in California, cheapening as it will so considerably the cost of producing silver, that the production of silver will be rapidly extended, and that thus the depreciation now going forward in the value of gold will be concealed by the contemporaneous depreciation in the value of that metal with which it is most usual to compare it. As to the rise in the price of silver 'acting as a premium on its production,' this is merely the common fallacy of confounding price and value.
55. As another example of the kind of 'solutions' with which writers on economic questions satisfy themselves, take the following from the Economist, June 20th, 1857, p. 682. The writer is explaining the principles which regulate the distribution of the precious metals:—"From the beginning of society, and in all countries, gold and silver have been used as money. They are, in fact, by some writers called natural money. If this be a true description of them, they must be distributed by natural laws, and one nation cannot have more of them than another, any more than one man can have more atmospherical air than another. Europe, generally, is in a state of civilisation which makes gold the most convenient metal for its coin; Asia, generally, is in a state of civilisation which makes silver the most convenient metal for its coin. Europe cannot possibly have all the gold and all the silver too. Gluttonous as it may be—led astray as its inhabitants still may be by the old theories of wealth—the desire to keep for itself all the gold and silver that Providence sends for all the nations of the earth, cannot possibly be gratified; and so we see the large new supplies of the precious metals pretty fairly distributed over all. Gold comes from America and Australia into Europe; and silver, displaced by it, goes from Europe to Asia, to India and China, spreading natural money everywhere. So, by the bounty of Providence, the useful instruments of life in society are distributed by two streams running in different directions over all the earth. Man is the agent for making the distribution, but he is not conscious of all the effects he produces."
Observe the reasoning in this passage:—Gold and silver have in all countries been used as money; they have been called natural money; therefore (assuming the designation as correct, which the writer does) they must be distributed by natural laws; and therefore one nation cannot have more of them than another. Now, in the first place, whether gold and silver be distributed according to 'natural laws,' cannot in the least depend upon whether they have been properly called 'natural money.' Paper credit, e.g., has never been called 'natural money,' nevertheless, it is governed by natural laws as certainly as gold and silver; if it were not so, the attempt to regulate the paper currency would be an absurdity. It is only in so far as things are governed by natural laws known to us—that is to say, it is only in so far as we know that certain effects will follow from certain causes—that we can hope to control them.
But, secondly, it is argued that, because gold and silver are distributed by natural laws, therefore 'one nation cannot have more of them than another, any more than once man can have more atmospherical air than another.' In the first place it is not easy to see what the connection is between 'natural laws' and equal distribution of the commodities which are subject to these laws; but, secondly, it is not true that one nation has no more of the precious metals than another; indeed it is so palpably untrue, that it is scarcely possible to believe that the writer could have meant what he so distinctly asserts. What then does be mean by saying that one nation cannot have more of the precious metals than another? Does he mean that the share of each is in proportion to its population? or in proportion to its trade? In neither of these senses is the doctrine more true than in the former. The trade of England is far greater than that of France, but the quantity of the precious metals in France is greater than in England; and the quantity in India, in proportion to its trade, is immeasurably greater than in either England or France. Neither is the relation of the precious metals to population more constant than their relation to trade. Will it be said that what is intended is that the precious metals are distributed amongst the different nations of the world in proportion to their requirements for them? This is true, but to give this as an explanation of the principle according to which the distribution takes place, is to show that the writer does not understand in what consists the solution of an economic problem. To adopt his own illustration, it is just as if a person, when asked according to what principle the air is distributed round the globe, should reply according to the degree of pressure operating upon it. What we want to know is, in the one case, what the conditions are which produce the pressure on which the dispersion of the atmosphere depends; and in the other, what those requirements are which determine the distribution of the precious metals—we want to know, in short, what principles of human nature they are which, operating upon what external facts, produce the result which we see.
So far with regard to the precious metals generally; next with regard to the metals severally, we are told that silver goes to Asia, while gold remains in Europe, because "Europe is in a state of civilisation which makes gold the most convenient metal for its coin," while "Asia is in a state of civilisation which makes silver the most convenient metal for its coin." Now it is certain that no important change has taken place in the relative civilisation of Europe and Asia, and I may add, of America, during the last ten years. If the principle, then, were a good one, silver would have been displaced in Europe long ago; and inasmuch as 'the civilisation' of America has been equally in advance of Oriental nations, silver would never have been the chief currency there. But silver has been the principal currency in both France and America until recently and might be so still in spite of their 'civilisation,' were their mint regulations framed with a view to retaining it.
Had the writer of this passage a clear conception of what it is which Political Economy proposes to accomplish, the tracing of the phenomena of wealth up to definite human motives and ascertained external facts, he would scarcely have satisfied himself with such an explanation as I have quoted—an explanation which, in the vagueness of its phraseology and the looseness of its reasoning, is much more allied to the puerile conceits and verbal quibbles of the schoolmen, than to the rigour and precision of thought which modern science demands.
59. As a specimen of the intelligence exhibited in criticisms of Malthus, take the following from Blanqui's Histoire de l'Économie Politique:—"Le choix que Malthus a fait de l'Amérique, oł la population double tous les vingt-cinq ans, n'est pas plus concluant que celui de la Suède, oł, selon M. Godwin, elle ne double que tous les cent ans. Les sociétés ne procèdent point ainsi par périodes regulières, comme les astres et les saisons, etc." Malthus could find his opponents in arguments, but not in brains.
60. Against this it is urged that, however true the statement may be as an abstract proposition, yet, regard being had to the actual state of the world—the increased supplies of food which even the most advanced countries under an improved agricultural system are capable of yielding, as well as the vast districts in America, New Zealand, and elsewhere, which are yet to be brought under cultivation—the doctrine must, for ages to come, be destitute of all practical significance. In a review of 'Mansfield's Paraguay, Brazil, and the Plate,' in Frazers Magazine (Nov. 1856), the writer, after rather more than the usual misrepresentation of Malthusian views, puts the objection thus:—
"Meanwhile stood by, laughing bitterly enough, the really practical men—men such as the author of the book now before us: the travellers, the geographers, the experimental men of science, who took the trouble, before deciding on what could be, to find out what was; and, as it were, 'took stock' of the earth and her capabilities, before dogmatizing on the future fate of her inhabitants. And, 'What?' they asked, in blank astonishment, 'what, in the name of maps and common sense, means this loud squabble? What right has any one to dogmatize on the future of humanity, while the far greater part of the globe is yet unredeemed from the will beast and the wild hunter? If scientific agriculture be too costly, is there not room enough on the earth for as much unscientific and cheap tillage as would support many times over her present population? What matters it, save as a question of temporary make-shift, whether England can be made to give thirty-three bushels of wheat per acre instead of thirty-one, by some questionably remunerative outlay of capital, while the Texan squatter, without any capital save his own two hands, is growing eighty bushels an acre? Your disquisitions about the 'margin of productiveness' are interesting, curious, probably correct, valuable in old countries, but nowhere else. For is the question, whether men shall live, or even be born at all, to be settled by them, forsooth, while the valley of the Ottawa can grow corn enough to supply all England, the valley of the Mississippi for all Europe?—while Australia is a forest, instead of being, as it will be one day, the vineyard of the world?—while New Zealand and the Falklands are still waste; and Polynesia, which may become the Greece of the New World, is worse than waste?—while Nebraska alone is capable of supporting a population equal to France and Spain together?—while, in the Old World, Asia Minor, once the garden of old Rome, lies a desert in the foul and lazy hands of the Ottoman?—while the Tropics produce almost spontaneously a hundred valuable articles of food, all but overlooked as yet in the exclusive cultivation of cotton and sugar? and finally (asks Mr. Mansfield in his book), while South America alone contains a territory of some eight hundred millions of square miles, at least equalling Egypt in climate, and surpassing England in fertility; easy of access; provided, by means of its great rivers, with unrivalled natural means of communication, and 'with water-power enough to turn all the mills in the world;' and needing nothing but men to make it one of the gardens of the world."
There are travellers and travellers. The passage just quoted gives us the view of one class on the problem raised by Malthus: on the other hand, von Humboldt in his 'Essay on New Spain,' (vol. i. p. 107), characterises the work of Malthus as 'one of the most profound works on Political Economy which has ever appeared.' But to come to the reviewer's argument—
The objection, it will be observed, is a purely practical one. It is not denied that 'population tends to increase faster than subsistence;' that, however great be the quantity of food which the earth is capable of yielding, population may ultimately overtake it, and tends to do so; but it is said, of what practical moment is this to us living now, with the boundless resources of new worlds still at our disposal? The answer—the practical answer—is it is everything to us, if these resources, however extensive, are not in fact turned to account. It matters not whether the obstacles be physical or moral, whether absolute and insuperable, or the result simply of prejudice and ignorance, so long as they are effectual in preventing the cultivation of the countries in question. So long as this is the case, these countries, to all practical intents and purposes, may be said not to exist for us: they can no more be counted on as means of supporting population than the countries in the moon. Yet because forsooth 'the valley of the Ottawa can grow corn enough to support all England,' although it is admitted that it does not do so, and it is not asserted that there is any immediate prospect that it will, this 'really practical' reviewer holds that it is the height of absurdity to speak of the necessity of restraining population, and treats all those who do, as dreamers and lunatics!
A labourer, e.g., in Dorsetshire, on nine shillings a week is hesitating about marriage. The 'speculative' Malthusian advises him to wait a little while till he saves enough to form at least the nucleus of a support for his wife and family. 'The really practical man,' on the other hand says to him, Why hesitate? Is not the valley of the Ottawa capable of growing food for all England?
The immense food-producing capabilities of the earth yet available for us were not overlooked by Malthus, nor, so far as I know, have they been by those who accept his doctrine, nor is there any reason to suppose that either master or followers have underrated the importance of turning these capabilities to account. They have, however, urged that the existence of capabilities is no reason for weakening the restraints on population; because, whatever be the extent of these resources, the development of them must be a work of time, and population is found in fact to be always fully able to keep pace with the process. The instinct which holds people to their native land, in spite of the alluring prospects of other regions, the tardiness with which capital moves to new countries, and the ignorance, indolence, and barbarism of most of the races which occupy them, render the introduction of systematized industry into such regions a matter of much difficulty and of slow accomplishment. The greater part of India has now been under our rule for a century, and yet we know how difficult it is to attract capital thither without a government guarantee; and, notwithstanding all that has been written and spoken of the boundless resources of India, and the pressing needs of England for articles to the production of which her soil and climate are peculiarly suitable, how little has yet been done to turn these advantages to account! What would a Manchester cotton spinner think of the advice—not to hesitate about erecting new mills and machinery, because, though the supply of cotton be rather short just now, the plains of the Deccan are capable of producing more than he will be able to work up for half a century? Yet the reviewer who, in the somewhat more momentous affair of human existence, gives precisely analogous advice, takes credit to himself for pre-eminent practical wisdom.
With regard to the other point adverted to—the possibility of largely increasing the quantity of subsistence raised even in old countries, similar considerations apply. The fact is undoubtedly true; but more food is nevertheless not raised. If it be asked why this is so? the answer is because, while agricultural skill remains at its present point, an increased production of food would necessitate a fall in farmers' profits, and farmers do not choose to submit to a fall in profits. And if it be further asked as to the grounds of this necessity, the inquirer may be referred to 'the diminishing productiveness of the soil'—the impenetrable barrier against which all anti-Malthusian plans and arguments are ultimately shivered.
61. I say 'discovery,' because, although it is true that the fundamental fact on which Malthus's doctrine rested had frequently been noticed before (vide, for example, McPherson's 'Annals of Commerce, 1590,' where he quotes a passage from a work by a Piedmontese Jesuit, Botero, 'On the Causes of the Greatness of Cities,' in which the writer puts the question—'What is the reason that cities, once grown to greatness, increase not onwards according to that proportion?' and gives the Malthusian answer), its bearing and importance with reference to the interests of mankind were all but wholly unappreciated until Malthus wrote. He it was who first called attention to the vast consequences involved in a fact patent to every observer, and occasionally taken notice of in particular instances, but never before understood in its full significance. And this, I may observe, is the nature of almost all discoveries in the region of social inquiry, as well as to some extent also in the sciences of organic nature. For example, the facts which form the basis of the Darwinian doctrine of species had not only been often noticed before, but, as Mr. Darwin shows, had been systematically acted on by breeders and others—in fact made the basis of an art. No one, however, will say that this detracted from the originality of Darwin's discovery.
62. 'Emigration,' says Doctor Johnson, 'is hurtful to human happiness, for it spreads mankind.' Dean Tucker, one of the few Englishmen who, during the American War of Independence, favoured separation, did so expressly on the ground that it would check emigration. See his Tracts, p. 206.
63. It by no means follows from anything that has been said above that paucity of population or the slowness of its advances is to be taken as a proof of national prosperity; or, vice versâ, that a numerous or rapidly increasing population is inconsistent therewith, as is almost invariably asserted or implied by anti-Malthusian writers. Mr. Rickards (e. g.) says:—"Mr. Malthus and the disciples of his school unite in representing the supposed pressure of population against food as increasing in intensity in direct proportion to the populousness of a community;" and, after giving the number of inhabitants to the square mile in some of the principal countries in the world, the result of the comparison being to show the greatest density of population in England, he adds, "England, therefore, is the country in which, according to the theory in question, the pressure of over-population ought to be most severe."—Population and Capital, p.p. 117, 118.
It is evident that the theory in question involves no such consequence; referring, as it does, to the relation subsisting between population and food, and asserting nothing whatever respecting the absolute amount of either. The statement, however, is not simply an unwarrantable inference; it amounts to a direct misrepresentation of Malthus, since it imputes to him an opinion which he has in terms disavowed. E.g. "It is an utter misconception of my argument to infer that I am an enemy to population. I am only an enemy to vice and misery, and consequently to that unfavourable proportion between population and food which produces these evils. But this unfavourable proportion has no necessary connection with the quantity of absolute population which a country may contain. On the contrary, it is more frequently found in countries which are very thinly peopled than in those which are more populous.... In the desirableness of a great and efficient population, I do not differ from the warmest advocates of increase. I am perfectly ready to acknowledge with the writers of old, that it is not extent of territory, but extent of population, that measures the power of states. It is only as to the mode of obtaining a vigorous and efficient population that I differ from them, and in thus differing, I conceive myself entirely borne out by experience, that great test of all human speculations." [See Appendix I of Malthus's 6th edition of his Essay.—Econlib Ed.]
The practical difference in the results to which Malthusian and anti-Malthusian views lead may be made clearer by considering how they would apply in a given case.
The stationary state of population in France, which has lately been made the subject of much remark, would probably be regarded by both schools as indicating something amiss in the social condition of that country. But while the anti-Malthusian would regard it as the source of the disease, the Malthusian would consider it as merely a symptom, and a symptom, as far as it went, alleviative of the disorder. According to the views of the former, the proper cure for the social malady would be to encourage population by offering premiums for large families, or by throwing the responsibility of providing for them on the State. I do not say that any one now would seriously recommend this policy; but I say it is a legitimate consequence from anti-Malthusian doctrines; it was universally accepted as such, and acted on as such, up to the close of the last century; and if the same policy is not still openly advocated, it is owing to the influence which the writings of Malthus have exercised even amongst those who affect to repudiate his teaching.
On the other hand, the Malthusian would regard the stationariness of population in France as an alleviative symptom of the social malady. That population does not advance is, indeed, in itself (apart from other considerations) an evil; it implies at all events a certain negation of human happiness; but it is better that population should not advance than that it should advance in increasing pauperism and wretchedness. The Malthusian, therefore, would consider how the material resources of France might be expanded, and her means of supporting population increased; but he would carefully abstain from encouraging population, because he would know that, owing to the natural strength of the principle, however great might be the expansion of her resources, population would advance at least as fast as was desirable. On the contrary, he would take care, while endeavouring to augment her means, not to weaken, but rather to strengthen, those prudential habits which at present exist. No possible immediate gain, if obtained by a relaxation in this respect, would be considered by him as an adequate compensation for the future evils which such relaxation would entail.
66. Mr. Rickards in fact elsewhere states the question in this way:—"Now, precisely the same assumption—that of the diminishing productiveness of the land, as compared with the undiminished power of human fecundity—forms the basis of the Malthusian theory."—Population and Capital, p. 127.
67. "To enter fully into this question, and to enumerate all the causes that have hitherto influenced human improvement, would be much beyond the power of an individual. The principal object of the present essay is to examine the effects of one great cause intimately united with the very nature of man; which, though it has been constantly and powerfully operating since the commencement of society, has been little noticed by writers who have treated this subject."—Malthus, Essay on Population, p.2. Ed. 1807. [See Preface to the Second Edition.—Econlib Ed.]
71. " 'Wherever Providence brings mouths into the world, it will find wherewithal to feed them;' the profane form of the theory," says the Cambridge Don, "is, that you ought to marry, because your relations can't let you starve."
72. It will perhaps occur that the rent of land may equally be regarded as the interest of the landlord's capital sunk either in the purchase or improvement of his estate. So far as the rent paid by the tenant is the consequence of improvements made in the land, the case is no doubt analogous to that of building-rent, and the payment which the landlord receives in consideration of such improvements is properly regarded as the returns on the capital which he has sunk. But with regard to the remainder, the same explanation is not available. The payment of this by the tenant is not a consequence of the landlord's purchase of the land (in the same way as the increase in his rent, in consideration of improvements, is a consequence of these improvements): on the contrary, the money paid for the purchase of the land is a consequence of the rent. Farmers do not pay rent because landlords have invested money in the purchase of their estates; but landlords invest money in this way, because farmers are willing to pay rent. If landlords had obtained their estates for nothing, as many have so obtained them, farmers would not the less pay rent; on the other hand, if, owing to any cause, corn fell permanently in value, rents would fall, whatever might have been the amount of the purchase-money given for estates.
73. M. Courcelle Seneuil claims that the true theory of rent was perceived by the Physiocrats, and quotes a passage from Turgot's work, 'Observations sur le Mémoire de M. de St. Péravy,' which shows that Turgot recognised the fact of the 'diminishing productiveness of the soil;' but there is nothing in the passage to show in what way this fact connects itself with the phenomenon of rent. I cannot hold, therefore, that the solution of the problem of rent is amongst the great services rendered by this distinguished philosopher to economic science.—See 'Traité d'Économie Politique,' par J. G. Courcelle Seneuil, tome i. pp. 179,180.
74. It will perhaps be said that the farmer would not withdraw his capital under the circumstances; that, being liable to his landlord for his rent, he will get the most he can out of his land, whatever be the price of agricultural produce. I hold, however, that a capitalist farmer (and it is only to such that the reasoning applies) would certainly do nothing of the kind. If he have made a bad bargain, and undertaken to pay rent for land of such indifferent quality, that the produce at the current prices will not replace his capital with the ordinary profits, it will be much better for him to put up, once for all, with the first loss, to allow his land to lie waste, and to turn his capital into some employment in which it will yield him ordinary profits, than to continue throwing good money after bad by farming at a loss. And this is practically what every farmer does whose lease comprises lands too poor for profitable cultivation. He simply does not cultivate such land. Instead of employing his surplus capital in the unprofitable cultivation of such portions of his farm, he allows them to lie waste, and invests his spare cash in trade, in railway stock, or in some other enterprise which promises average profits.
76. One would suppose that this fact, so obvious when stated, could not long have escaped the attention at least of 'practical men.' Yet it was a Committee of the House of Commons who piqued themselves on their practical knowledge, that reported that a price of 100s. to 105s. the quarter for wheat was necessary to enable farmers to continue the cultivation of their land; less than this not being 'a remunerative price;' as if the necessary cost of raising corn were some fixed quantity, independent of the character of the soil on which it is raised, or of the point to which cultivation may be forced upon it. On the other hand, it was reserved for a 'theorist' (Ricardo, in his tract on 'Protection to Agriculture,') to discover that corn may be grown not only in the same country but on the same soil at different costs, and that, therefore, the 'remunerative price' will vary with the state of agriculture.
79. On the recurrence of a 'residual phenomenon' in physical investigations it always becomes a question whether the theory, which leaves the fact unexplained, is to be retained, accompanied with the hypothesis of some concurrent cause undetected to which the residual phenomenon may be ascribed, or whether the theory should be wholly rejected. But in economic reasoning no such questions can arise. The grounds of the distinction have been pointed out in the third lecture; they are to be found in the different character of the proof by which ultimate principles in physical and economic science are established. The proof of a physical theory always, in the last resort, comes to this, that, assuming it to be true, it accounts for the phenomena; whence it follows that the occurrence of a 'residual phenomenon' in physical researches necessarily weakens the proof of the laws which fail to explain it, and, if such exceptions become numerous and important, may lead to the entire rejection of the theory. On the other hand, it is always regarded as the strongest confirmation of the truth of a physical doctrine, when it is found to explain facts which start up unexpectedly in the course of inquiry. (Vide Appendix C.) But the ultimate principles of Political Economy, not being established by evidence of this circumstantial kind but by direct appeals to our consciousness or to our senses, cannot be affected by any phenomena which may present themselves in the course of our subsequent inquiries (the proof of the existence of such phenomena consisting also in appeals to our consciousness or to our senses, and therefore being neither more nor less cogent than that of those ultimate principles); nor, assuming the reasoning process to be correct, can the theory which may be founded on them. We have here no alternative but to assume the existence of a disturbing cause. In the case before us, e.g., under whatever circumstances rent may be found to exist, this can never shake our faith in the facts that the soil of the country is not all equally fertile, and that the productive capacity of the best soil is limited; nor weaken our confidence in the conclusions drawn from these facts, that agricultural produce is raised at different costs, and that in the play of human interests this will lead to the payment of rent to the proprietor of the superior natural agent.
83. I may perhaps be permitted to refer to my Essay—'Political Economy and Land'—in the volume—'Essays in Political Economy, Theoretical and Applied'—for a discussion of some aspects of the problem of rent not treated in the foregoing lecture, and in particular for an examination of the effects of different social conditions in causing a divergence of the actual rent paid by cultivators from the 'economic rent' as defined by the theory of Ricardo.
84. As a specimen of his style when he is less restrained by scientific considerations, take the following, 'Some Political Economists pretend that the rules of the science are not applicable to extreme cases. An extremely convenient cover for ignorance, truly! Such arguments only prove the incapacity of those who use them. If an architect had miscalculated the strength of the materials of his columns, and his building came tumbling down, and he were to run about, crying out: 'It is an extreme case, the laws of mechanics do not apply to it!' the world would set him down as a fool. If an engineer whose boiler was to burst from bad workmanship, were to say that it was an extreme case, and that the laws of heat did not apply to it, he would be set down as a fool. In both these cases people would say that the architect and the engineer did not pay sufficient attention to the laws of nature. They would not say that the laws of nature paled before the incompetence of man. Those Political Economists who say that the laws of their science are not applicable to extreme cases, are just like such an architect, or such an engineer. Such a doctrine is the mere cloak of their own incompetence and ignorance. A false theory may account well enough for a particular case, like an engine may be at rest whose piston is crooked, whose wheels and cranks are all out of order. But the test of a well-finished engine is to work smoothly; it must be set in motion to test it properly. Just so with a theory; it must be worked—it must be set in motion. If it be true, like a well-fitting engine, it will work smoothly, it will explain all phenomena in the science; if it be not true like, a badly-fitting engine it will crack, split, break in all directions.
"Mr. Macaulay has used a similar line of argument with great skill and effect," &c.