Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy

John Stuart Mill
Mill, John Stuart
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First Pub. Date
London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer.
Pub. Date
2nd edition.

1. Elements of Political Economy, by James Mill, Esq., 3rd edit., pp. 120-1.

2. The figures used are of course arbitrary, having no reference to any existing prices.

3. We have not deemed it necessary to enter minutely into all the circumstances which might modify the results mentioned in the text. For example, let us revert to the first case, that in which the demand for cloth in Germany is so little affected by the rise of price in consequence of the tax, that the quantity bought exceeds in pecuniary value what it was before. As the German consumers lay out more money in cloth, they have less to lay out in other things; other money prices will fall; among the rest that of linen; and this may so increase the demand for linen in England as to restore the equilibrium of exports and imports without any passage of money. But England's treasury will still gain from Germany the whole of the tax, and the English people will buy their linen cheaper besides. Again, in the opposite case, where the tax so diminishes the demand, that a smaller pecuniary value is required than before. The German consumers have, therefore, more to expend in other things; these, and among the rest linen, will rise; and this may so diminish the demand for linen in England, as to restore the equilibrium without the transmission of money. But the effect, as respects the division of the advantage, is still as stated in the text.

4. The world at large, sellers and buyers taken together, is always a gainer by underselling. If, in the case supposed, England were compelled by a commercial treaty to exclude the linen of Flanders from her market, the total wealth of the world, if affected at all, would be diminished.

For, what is the cause which enables Flanders to undersell Germany? That Flanders, if she had the trade, would exchange linen for cloth at a rate of interchange more advantageous to England. And why can Flanders do so? It must be either because Flanders can produce the article with a less comparative quantity of labour than Germany, and therefore the total advantage to be divided between the two countries is greater in the case of Flanders than of Germany; or else because, though the total advantage is not greater, Flanders obtains a less share of it, her demand for cloth being greater, at the same rate of interchange, than that of Germany. In the former case, to exclude Flemish linen from England would be to prevent the world at large from making a greater saving of labour instead of a less. In the latter, the exclusion would be inefficacious for the only end it could be intended for, viz., the benefit of Germany, unless Flemish money were excluded from England as well as Flemish linen. For Flanders would buy English cloth, paying for it in money, until the fall of her prices enabled her to pay for it with something else: and the ultimate result would be that, by the rise of prices in England, Germany must pay a higher price for her cloth, and so lose a part of the advantage in spite of the treaty; while England would pay for German linen the same price indeed, but as the money incomes of her own people would be increased, the same money price would imply a smaller sacrifice.

5. This last possible effect of a sudden introduction of free trade, was pointed out in an able article on the Silk question, in a work of too short duration, the Parliamentary Review.

Essay II

6. Probably; because most articles of an ornamental description being still required from the same makers, these makers, with their capital, would probably follow their customers. Besides, from place to place within the same country, most persons will rather change their habitation than their employment. But the moving on this score would be reciprocal.

Essay IV

7. It would be easy to go over in the same manner any other case. For instance, we may suppose, that, instead of dispensing with the whole of the fixed capital, material, &c., and taking on labourers in equal number to those by whom these were produced, half only of the fixed capital and material is dispensed with; so that, instead of 60 labourers and a fixed capital worth 60 quarters of corn, we have 80 labourers and a fixed capital worth 30. The numerical statement of this case is more intricate than that in the text, but the result is not different.

Essay V

8. We say, the production and distribution, not, as is usual with writers on this science, the production, distribution, and consumption. For we contend that Political Economy, as conceived by those very writers, has nothing to do with the consumption of wealth, further than as the consideration of it is inseparable from that of production, or from that of distribution. We know not of any laws of the consumption of wealth as the subject of a distinct science: they can be no other than the laws of human enjoyment. Political economists have never treated of consumption on its own account, but always for the purpose of the inquiry in what manner different kinds of consumption affect the production and distribution of wealth. Under the head of Consumption, in professed treatises on the science, the following are the subjects treated of: 1st, The distinction between productive and unproductive consumption; 2nd, The inquiry whether it is possible for too much wealth to be produced, and for too great a portion of what has been produced to be applied to the purpose of further production; 3rd, The theory of taxation, that is to say, the following two questions—by whom each particular tax is paid (a question of distribution), and in what manner particular taxes affect production.

9. The physical laws of the production of useful objects are all equally presupposed by the science of Political Economy: most of them, however, it presupposes in the gross, seeming to say nothing about them. A few (such, for instance, as the decreasing ratio in which the produce of the soil is increased by an increased application of labour) it is obliged particularly to specify, and thus seems to borrow those truths from the physical sciences to which they properly belong, and include them among its own.

10. The science of legislation is an incorrect and misleading expression. Legislation is making laws. We do not talk of the science of making anything. Even the science of government would be an objectionable expression, were it not that government is often loosely taken to signify, not the act of governing, but the state or condition of being governed, or of living under a government. A preferable expression would be, the science of political society; a principal branch of the more extensive science of society; characterized in the text.

11. One of the strongest reasons for drawing the line of separation clearly and broadly between science and art is the following:—That the principle of classification in science most conveniently follows the classification of causes, while arts must necessarily be classified according to the classification of the effects, the production of which is their appropriate end. Now an effect, whether in physics or morals, commonly depends upon a concurrence of causes, and it frequently happens that several of these causes belong to different sciences. Thus in the construction of engines upon the principles of the science of mechanics, it is necessary to bear in mind the chemical properties of the material, such as its liability to oxydize; its electrical and magnetic properties, and so forth. From this it follows that although the necessary foundation of all art is science, that is, the knowledge of the properties or laws of the objects upon which, and with which, the art does its work; it is not equally true that every art corresponds to one particular science. Each art presupposes, not one science, but science in general; or, at least, many distinct sciences.

End of Notes

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