A Treatise on Political Economy
By Jean-Baptiste Say
A NEW edition of this translation of the popular treatise of M. Say having been called for, the five previous American editions being entirely out of print, the editor has endeavoured to render the work more deserving of the favour it has received, by subjecting every part of it to a careful revision. As the translation of Mr. Prinsep was made in the year 1821, from an earlier edition of the original treatise, namely, the fourth, which had not received the last corrections and improvements of the author, wherever an essential principle had been involved in obscurity, or an error had crept in, which had been subsequently cleared up and removed, the American editor has, in this impression, reconciled the language of the text and notes to the fifth improved edition, published in 1826, the last which M. Say lived to give to the world. It has not, however, been deemed necessary to extend these alterations in the translation any further than to the correction of such discrepancies and errors as are here alluded to; and the editor has not ventured to recast the translation, as given by Mr. Prinsep, merely with a view to accommodate its phraseology, in point of neatness of expression or diction, to the last touches of the author. The translation of Mr. Prinsep, the editor must again be permitted to observe, has been executed with sufficient fidelity, and with considerable spirit and elegance; and in his opinion it could not be much improved by even remoulding it after the last edition. The translation of the introduction, given by the present editor, has received various verbal corrections; and such alterations and additions as were introduced by the author into his fifth edition, will now be found translated. [From the Advertisement to the 6th edition.]
C. R. Prinsep, trans. and Clement C. Biddle., ed.
First Pub. Date
Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.,
First written in French. 6th edition. Based on the 4th-5th editions.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Jean-Baptiste Say courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
THE AMERICAN EDITOR,
A NEW edition of this translation of the popular treatise of M. Say having been called for, the five previous American editions being entirely out of print, the editor has endeavoured to render the work more deserving of the favour it has received, by subjecting every part of it to a careful revision. As the translation of Mr. Prinsep was made in the year 1821, from an earlier edition of the original treatise, namely, the fourth, which had not received the last corrections and improvements of the author, wherever an essential principle had been involved in obscurity, or an error had crept in, which had been subsequently cleared up and removed, the American editor has, in this impression, reconciled the language of the text and notes to the fifth improved edition, published in 1826, the last which M. Say lived to give to the world. It has not, however, been deemed necessary to extend these alterations in the translation any further than to the correction of such discrepancies and errors as are here alluded to; and the editor has not ventured to recast the translation, as given by Mr. Prinsep, merely with a view to accommodate its phraseology, in point of neatness of expression or diction, to the last touches of the author. The translation of Mr. Prinsep, the editor must again be permitted to observe, has been executed with sufficient fidelity, and with considerable spirit and elegance; and in his opinion it could not be much improved by even remoulding it after the last edition. The translation of the introduction, given by the present editor, has received various verbal corrections; and such alterations and additions as were introduced by the author into his fifth edition, will now be found translated.
It is, moreover, proper to state, that at the suggestion of the American proprietors and publishers of this edition of the work, the French moneys, weights and measures, throughout the text and notes, have been converted into the current coins, weights and measures of the United States, when the context strictly required it by a rigorous reduction, and when merely assumed as a politico-arithmetical illustration, by a simple approximation to a nearly equivalent quantity of our own coins, weights or measures. This has been done to render the work as extensively useful as possible, and will, no doubt, make the author’s general principles and reasonings more easily comprehended, as well as more readily remembered, by the American student of political economy.
Many new notes, it will be seen, have been added by the American editor, in further illustration or correction of those portions of the text which still required elucidation. The statistical data now incorporated in these notes, have been brought down to the most recent period, both in this country and in Europe. No pains have been spared in getting access to authentic channels of information, and the American editor trusts that the present edition will be found much improved throughout.
The death of M. Say took place, in Paris, during the third week of November, 1832, on which occasion, according to the statements in the French journals, such funeral honours were paid to his memory as are due to eminent personages, and Odilon-Barrot, de Sacy, de Laborde, Blanqui, and Charles Dupin, his distinguished countrymen and admirers, pronounced discourses at the interment in the cemetery of Pêre Lachaise.
The account of his decease, here subjoined, is taken from the London Political Examiner of the 25th of November, 1832, and is from the pen of its able editor, Mr. Fonblanque, one of the most powerful political writers in England. Mr. Fonblanque, it appears, was the personal friend, as well as the warm admirer, of the genius and writings of M. Say, and was well qualified to appreciate his high intellectual endowments, his profound knowledge and political wisdom, his manly independence, his mild yet dignified consistency of character, and above all, his rare and shining private virtues. There hardly could be a more interesting and instructive task assigned to the philosophical biographer, than a faithful portraiture of the life and labours of this illustrious man, which were so ardently and efficiently devoted to the advancement of the happiness and prosperity of his fellow-men. Perhaps the writings of no authors, however great their celebrity may be, are exerting a more powerful and enduring influence on the well-being of the people of Europe and America, than those of Adam Smith, and John Baptiste Say.
“France has this week lost another of her most distinguished writers and citizens, the celebrated political economist, M. Say. The invaluable branch of knowledge to which the greatest of his intellectual exertions were devoted, is indebted to him, amongst others, for those great and all-pervading truths which have elevated it to the rank of a science; and to him, far more than to any others, for its popularization and diffusion. Nor was M. Say a
mere political economist; else had he been necessarily a bad one. He knew that a subject so ‘immersed in matter,’ (to use the fine expression of Lord Bacon,) as a nation’s prosperity, must be looked at on many sides, in order to be seen rightly even on one. M. Say was one of the most accomplished minds of his age and country. Though he had given his chief attention to one particular aspect of human affairs, all their aspects were interesting to him; not one was excluded from his survey. His private life was a model of the domestic virtues. From the time when, with Chamfort and Ginguenê, he founded the
Decade Philosophique, the first work which attempted to revive literary and scientific pursuits during the storms of the French Revolution—alike when courted by Napoleon, and when persecuted by him (he was expelled from the
Tribunat for presuming to have an independent opinion); unchanged equally during the sixteen years of the Bourbons, and the two of Louis Philippe—he passed unsullied through all the trials and temptations which have left a stain on every man of feeble virtue among his conspicuous contemporaries. He kept aloof from public life, but was the friend and trusted adviser of some of its brightest ornaments; and few have contributed more, though in a private station, to keep alive in the hearts and in the contemplation of men, a lofty standard of public virtue. If this feeble testimony, from one not wholly unknown to him, should meet the eye of any one who loved him, may it, in so far as such things can, afford that comfort under the loss, which can be derived from the knowledge that others know and feel all its irreparableness!”
THE AMERICAN EDITOR,
No work upon political economy, since the publication of Dr. Adam Smith’s profound and original Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, has attracted such general attention, and received such distinguished marks of approbation from competent judges, as the “Traite D’Economie Politique,” of M. Say. It was first printed in Paris in the year 1803; and, subsequently, has passed through five large editions, that have received various corrections and improvements from the author. Translations of the work have been made into the German, Spanish, Italian, and other languages; and it has been adopted as a textbook in all the universities of the continent of Europe, in which this new but essential branch of liberal education is now taught. The four former American editions of this translation have also been introduced into many of the most respectable of our own seminaries of learning.
It is unquestionably the most methodical, comprehensive and best digested treatise on the elements of political economy, that has yet been presented to the world. It exhibits a clear and systematical view of all the solid and important doctrines of this very extensive and difficult science, unfolded in their proper order and connexion. In the establishment of his principles, the author’s reasonings, with but few exceptions, are logical and accurate, delivered with distinctness and perspicuity, and generally supported by the fullest and most satisfactory illustrations. A rigid adherence to the inductive method of investigation, in the prosecution of almost every part of his inquiry, has enabled M. Say to effect a nearly complete analysis of the numerous and complicated phenomena of wealth, and to enunciate and establish, with all the evidence of demonstration, the simple and general laws on which its production, distribution, and consumption depend. The few slight and inconsiderable errors into which the author has fallen, do not affect the general soundness and consistency of his text, although, it is true, they are blemishes that thus far darken and disfigure it. But these are of rare occurrence, and the false conclusions involved in them may be easily detected and refuted by recurrence to the fundamental principles of the work, with which they manifestly are at variance, and contradict.
The foundation of the science of political economy was firmly laid, and the only successful method of conducting our inquiries in it pointed out and exemplified by the illustrious author of the Wealth of Nations; a number of its leading doctrines were also developed and explained by other eminent writers on the continent of Europe, who, about the same time, were engaged in investigating the nature and causes of social riches. But neither the scientific genius and penetrating sagacity of the former, nor the profound acuteness and extensive research of many of the latter, enabled them to obtain a complete discovery of all the actual phenomena of wealth, and thus to effect an entire solution of the most abstruse and difficult problems in political economy; those, namely, which demonstrate the true theory of value, and unfold the real sources of production. Aided, however, by the valuable materials collected and arranged by the labours of his distinguished predecessors, here referred to, and proceeding in the same path, our author, with the closeness and minutenes of attention due to this important study, has succeeded in examining under all their aspects, the general facts which the groundwork of the science presents, and by rejecting and excluding the accidental circumstances connected with them, has thus established its ultimate laws or principles.
Accordingly, by pursuing the inductive method of investigation, M. Say, in the most strict and philosophical manner, has deduced the true nature of value, traced up its origin, and presented a clear and accurate explanation of its theory. His definition of wealth, therefore, is more precise and correct than that of any of his predecessors in this inquiry. The agency of human industry, which Dr. Adam Smith, not with the strictest propriety, denominated labour, the important operation of natural powers, especially land, and the functions of capital, as well as the relative services of these three instruments, and the modes in which they all concur in the business of production, were first distinctly and fully pointed out and illustrated by our author. In this way he successfully unfolded the manner in which production is carried on, and imparts value to the products of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce. By, also, distinguishing reproductive from unproductive consumption, M. Say has exhibited the exact nature of capital, and its consequent important agency in production, and thus has shown why economy is a source of national wealth. Such are this author’s peculiar and original speculations, the fruits of deep and patient meditation on the phenomena observed. The elementary principles derived from them, with others previously ascertained, he has combined into one harmonious, consistent, and beautiful system.
But a few of these solid and well-established positions have been criticised and objected to as inconclusive and inadmissible, by Mr. Ricardo and by Mr. Malthus, two of the ablest and most distinguished political economists among our author’s contemporaries. Other doctrines in relation to the nature and origin of value have been advanced by them, and with so much plausibility too, that some of the most acute reasoners of the present day have not been sufficiently on their guard against the fallacies involved in them. The mathematical cast given to their reasonings by these writers, has captivated and led astray the understandings of intelligent and sagacious readers, and induced them to adopt, as scientific truths, what, when properly investigated and analyzed, are found to be merely specious hypotheses. Hence it is that a theory of value, purely gratuitous, has been extolled in one of the principal literary journals of Great Britain, as being “no less logical and conclusive than it was profound and important.” Our author, accordingly, deemed it necessary to examine the arguments brought forward in support of these views of his opponents, in order to test their soundness and accuracy, and to submit his own principles to a further review, that he might become satisfied that the conclusions he had deduced from them had not been in any manner invalidated.
In the notes appended by M. Say to the French translation of Mr. Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, the reader will find what the editor deems a masterly and conclusive refutation of the theoretical errors of this author. M. Say’s strictures upon the twentieth chapter of the work, entitled, “Value and Riches, their Distinctive Properties,” are in his opinion decisive and unanswerable. The fallacies contained in Mr. Ricardo’s theory of value, which, the editor thinks, may be traced to an anxiety to give consistency to the loose and inaccurate proposition of Dr. Adam Smith, that exchangeable value is entirely derived from human labour, are there fully exposed, and his whole train of reasoning, in connection with it, shown to rest upon an unwarrantable assumption. It must, however, be conceded that Mr. Ricardo was an intrepid and uncompromising reasoner, who always proceeded in the most direct and fearless manner from his premises to the conclusion. But not uniting with the strongest powers of reasoning, a capacity for analytical subtilty, he sometimes did not perceive verbal ambiguities in the formation of his premises, and transitions in the signification of his terms in the conduct of his argument, which, in these instances, vitiated his conclusions. The fundamental errors into which he has fallen, accordingly, do not arise from any want of strictness in his deductions, but from undue generalizations and perversions of language. In M. Say’s Letters to Mr. Malthus, which have been translated by Mr. Richter, the points at issue between these two eminent political economists are discussed in the most luminous, impartial, and satisfactory manner; and by all candid and unprejudiced critics must be considered as bringing the controversy to a close.
It is not his intention, nor would it be proper on this occasion, for the editor to enter further into the merits of the controversial writings of our author. Any dispassionate inquirer, who will take the pains carefully to review the whole ground in dispute, will, he thinks, find that the disquisitions referred to contain a triumphant vindication of such of the author’s general principles as had been assailed by his ingenious opponents. Whenever the study of the science of political economy shall be more generally cultivated as an essential branch of early education, most of the abstruse questions involved in the controversies which now divide the writers on this subject will be brought to a conclusion; the accession of useful knowledge it will occasion will more effectually eradicate the prejudices which have given birth to these disputes and misconceptions, than any direct argumentative refutation.
The great merits of this treatise on political economy are now beginning to be well known and properly estimated by that class of readers who take a deep interest in the progress of a science, which “aims at the improvement of society,” as Dugald Stewart so truly remarks, “not by delineating plans of new constitutions, but by enlightening the policy of actual legislators;” a science, therefore, with the right understanding of whose principles, the welfare and happiness of mankind are intimately connected.
In alluding to this admirable work of M. Say, Mr. Ricardo remarks, “that its author not only was the first, or among the first, of continental writers, who justly appreciated and applied the principles of Smith, and who has done more than all other continental writers taken together, to recommend the principles of that enlightened and beneficial system to the nations of Europe; but who has succeeded in placing the science in a more logical, and more instructive order; and has enriched it by several discussions, original, accurate, and profound.”
The English public has for some time been in possession of the present excellent translation of this treatise by Mr. Prinsep; the first edition of which was published in London in the spring of 1821. It is executed with spirit, elegance, and general fidelity, and is a performance, in every respect, worthy of the original. It is here given to the American reader without any material alteration.
In various notes which the English translator has thought proper to subjoin to his edition of the text, he has wasted much ingenuity in endeavouring to overthrow some of the author’s leading principles, which, notwithstanding these attacks, are as fixed and immutable as the truths which constitute their basis. Had Mr. Prinsep more thoroughly studied M. Say’s profound theoretical views on the subject of value, and had he, also, made himself acquainted, which it nowhere appears that he has done, with the powerful and victorious defence of these doctrines, contained in the notes on Mr. Ricardo’s work, and in the letters to Mr. Malthus, already referred to, he perhaps might have discovered, that they are the ultimate generalizations of facts, which, agreeably to the most legitimate rules of philosophizing, the author was entitled to lay down as general laws or principles. At all events, Mr. Prinsep should not have ventured upon an attack on these first principles of the science of political economy, without this previous examination.
Such, therefore, of these notes of the English translator as are in opposition to the well-established elements of the science, and have no other support than the hypothesis of Mr. Ricardo and Mr. Malthus, have been entirely omitted; the American editor not deeming himself under any obligation to give currency to errors, which would perpetually interrupt and distract the attention of the reader in a most abstruse and difficult inquiry. Other notes of the translator, which contain interesting and valuable illustrations of other general principles of the work, drawn from the actual state of Great Britain and her colonies, have been retained in this edition, as appropriate and useful. The translator’s remarks on the pernicious character and tendency of the restrictive and prohibitive policy, are particularly worthy of regard, confirming as they most fully do, on this subject, all the important conclusions of the author. The folly of attempting, either by extraordinary encouragements, to attract towards some branches of production a larger share of capital and industry than would be naturally employed in them, or by uncommon restraints forcibly to divert from others a portion of the capital and industry that would otherwise be invested in them, is at last beginning to be understood.
The restrictive system, or that which by means of legislative enactments endeavours to give a particular direction to national capital and industry, derived its whole support from the assumption of positions now generally admitted to be gratuitous and unfounded, namely, that in trade whatever is gained by one nation must necessarily be lost by another, that wealth consists exclusively of the precious metals, and consequently, that in all sales of commodities, the great object should be to obtain returns in gold and silver. In Europe these erroneous opinions have now, for some time, been relinquished by political economists of all the various schools, some of whom yet differ and dispute respecting a few of the more recondite and ultimate elements of the science. In the whole range of inquiry in political economy, perhaps there is not a single proposition better established, or one that has obtained a more universal sanction from its enlightened cultivators in every country, than the liberal doctrine, that the most active, general, and profitable employments are given to the industry and capital of every people, by allowing to their direction and application the most perfect freedom, compatible with the security of property. This fundamental position of political economy, and the various principles that flow from it as corollaries, were first systematically developed, explained, and taught by the great father of the science, Dr. Adam Smith; although glimpses of the same important truth had previously, and about the same time, reached the minds of a few eminent individuals in other parts of the world. “The most effectual plan for advancing a people to greatness,” says Dr. Smith, “is to maintain that order of things which nature pointed out; by allowing every man, as long as he observes the rules of justice, to pursue his own interest in his own way, and to bring both his industry and his capital into the freest competition with those of his fellow-citizens.” Animated by a like desire to promote the improvement and happiness of mankind, with that which actuated the author of the Wealth of Nations, the most profound inquiries among his successors embraced his enlarged and benevolent views, as the only certain means of increasing the general prosperity, and eloquently maintained and enforced them. The doctrines of the freedom of trade and the rights of industry, were vindicated and taught by all the distinguished British political economists; namely, by Dugald Stewart, Ricardo, Malthus, Torrens, Horner, Huskisson, Lauderdale, Bentham, Mills, Craig, Lowe, Tooke, Senior, Bowring, M’Culloch, and Whatley; and, on the continent of Europe, by authors as celebrated, by Say, Droz, Sismondi, Storch, Garnier, Destutt-Tracy, Ganilh, Jovellanos, Sartorius, Queypo, Leider, Von Schlozer, Kraus, Weber, Muller, Scarbeck, Pechio, and Gioja.
“Under a system of perfectly free commerce,” says Mr. Ricardo, “each country naturally devotes its capital and labour to such employments as are most beneficial to each. This pursuit of individual advantage is admirably connected with the universal good of the whole. By stimulating industry, by rewarding ingenuity, and by using most efficaciously the powers bestowed by nature, it distributes labour most effectively and most economically: while by increasing the general mass of productions, it diffuses general benefit, and binds together by one common tie of interest and intercourse, the universal society of nations throughout the civilized world. It is this principle which determines that wine shall be made in France and Portugal, that corn shall be grown in America and Poland, and that hardware and other goods shall be manufactured in England.”
Our own celebrated countryman, Franklin, too, with a sagacity and force which always characterized his intellect, maintained and exemplified in his “Essay on the Principles of Trade,” what he therein repeatedly called “the great principle of freedom in trade.” Even before the appearance of the Wealth of Nations, he had with almost intuition anticipated some of the most profound conclusions of the science of political economy, which other inquirers had arrived at only after a patient and laborious analysis of its phenomena. The new and generous commercial policy is not more beholden for support and currency to the arguments and illustrations of any of its early expositors, than to the clear and vigorous pen of the highly gifted American philosopher. “The expressions,
Laissez nous faire, and
pas trop gouverner,” which, to use the language of Dugald Stewart, the highest of all authorities, “comprise in a few words two of the most important lessons of political wisdom, are indebted chiefly for their extensive circulation, to the short and luminous comments of Franklin, which had so extraordinary an influence on public opinion, both in the Old and New World.” Nevertheless, strange as it may seem, by a perversion or misconception of a few of his incidental opinions, the name of the first of practical statesmen has been invoked, and its authority employed among us, in aid of a system of restraints and prohibitions on commerce, which it was the chief aim of his politico-economical writings to refute and condemn, as alike repugnant to sound theory and destructive to national prosperity. Whenever American statesmen and legislators shall have as clear and steady perceptions as Franklin of the truth and wisdom of the doctrine of commercial freedom, we may expect that our national and state codes will no longer exhibit so many traces of that empirical spirit of tampering regulation which, instead of invigorating and quickening the development of national wealth, only cramps and retards its natural growth. “Where should we expect,” says M. Say, in a letter to the editor, “sound doctrine to be better received than amongst a nation that supports and illustrates the value of free principles, by the most striking examples. The old states of Europe are cankered with prejudices and bad habits; it is America who will teach them the height of prosperity which may be reached when governments follow the counsels of reason, and do not
cost too much.”
The preliminary discourse has been translated by the American editor, and in his editions of the work restored to its place. The editor must confess that he is at a loss to account for the omission by the English translator of so material a part of the author’s treatise as this introduction to his whole inquiry. In itself it is a performance of uncommon merit, has immediate reference to, and sheds much light over, the general views unfolded in the body of the work. The nature and object of the science of political economy, the only certain method of conducting any of our inquiries in it with success, and the causes which have hitherto so much retarded its advancement, are all considered and pointed out with great clearness and ability. The author has also connected with it a highly interesting and instructive historical sketch of the progress of this science during the last and present century, interspersed with numerous judicious and acute criticisms upon the writings and opinions of his predecessors. Moreover, this discourse, throughout every part, is deeply philosophical, and well calculated to prepare the reader for the study on which he is about to enter. The editor has, therefore, he trusts, performed an acceptable service in putting the American student in possession of so important a part of the original work.
Notes have also been subjoined by the American editor, for the purpose of marking a few inconsiderable errors and inconsistencies into which the author has inadvertently fallen, and of supplying an occasional illustration, drawn from other authors, of such passages of the text as seemed to require further elucidation or correction.
“Your translation and restoration of the preliminary discourse adds, in my eyes, a new value to your edition. It could only have been from a narrow calculation of the English publisher, that it was omitted in Mr. Prinsep’s translation. Ought that portion of the work to be deemed unuseful, whose aim is to unfold the real object of the science, to present a rapid sketch of its history, and to point out the only true method of investigating it with success? Mr. George Pryme, professor of political economy in the university of Cambridge, in England, makes this very discourse the principal topic of several of his first lectures.”
a house, and
economy, the law which regulates the household.
Household, according to the Greeks, comprehending all the goods in possession of the family; and
civitas, extending its application to society or the nation at large.
Political economy is the best expression that can be used to designate the science discussed in the following treatise, which is not the investigation of
natural wealth, or that which nature supplies us with gratuitously and without limitation, but of
social wealth exclusively, which is founded on exchange and the recognition of the right of property both social regulations.
exposé of 1813, a most disastrous period, when foreign commerce was destroyed, and the national resources of every description rapidly declining, boasted of having proved by indubitable
calculations, that the country was in a higher state of prosperity than it ever before had been.
practice, is not here meant the manual skill which enables the artificer or clerk to execute with greater celerity and precision whatever he performs daily, and which constitutes his peculiar talent; but the method pursued in superintending and administering public or private affairs.
And in the preface of the third edition of his ‘Essay on the External Corn Trade,’ published in 1826, Col. Torrens makes these further remarks: “On a former occasion, the author ventured to predict, that at no distant period, controversy amongst the professors of political economy would cease, and unanimity prevail, respecting the fundamental principles of the science. He thinks he can already perceive the unequivocal signs of the approaching fulfillment of this prediction. Since it was hazarded, two works have appeared, each of which, in its own peculiar line, is eminently calculated to correct the errors which previously prevailed. These publications are, ‘A Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Causes, and Measures of Value, by an anonymous author;’ and ‘Thoughts and Details on High and Low Prices, by Mr. Tooke.’ “—American Editor
quantity to be put in
circulation; itself but one of the elements of
price. To determine the
quantity to be
demanded, the price at which the commodity can be sold must already be known, as the demand for it will increase in proportion to its cheapness; we must also know the former stock on hand, and the tastes and means of the consumers, as various as their persons. Their ability to purchase will vary according to the more or less prosperous condition of industry in general, and of their own in particular; their wants will vary also in the ratio of the additional means at their command of substituting one liquor for another, such as beer, cider, &c. I suppress an infinite number of less important considerations, more or less affecting the solution of the problem; for I question whether any individual, really accustomed to the application of mathematical analysis, would even venture to attempt this, not only on account of the numerous data, but in consequence of the difficulty of characterizing them with any thing like precision, and of combining their separate influences. Such persons as have pretended to do it, have not been able to enunciate these questions into analytical language, without divesting them of their natural complication, by means of simplifications, and arbitrary suppressions, of which the consequences, not properly estimated, always essentially change the condition of the problem, and pervert all its results; so that no other inference can be deduced from such calculations than from formula arbitrarily assumed. Thus, instead of recognizing in their conclusions that harmonious agreement which constitutes the peculiar character of rigorous geometrical investigation, by whatever method they may have been obtained, we only perceive vague and uncertain inferences, whose differences are often equal to the quantities sought to be determined. What course is then to be pursued by a judicious inquirer in the elucidation of a subject so much involved? The same which would be pursued by him, under circumstances equally difficult, which decide the greater part of the actions of his life. He will examine the immediate elements of the proposed problem, and after having ascertained them with certainty, (which in political economy can be effected,) will approximately value their mutual influences with the intuitive quickness of an enlightened understanding, itself only an instrument by means of which the mean result of a crowd of probabilities can be estimated, but never calculated with exactness.
Cabanis, in describing the revolutions in the science of medicine, makes a remark perfectly analogous to this. ‘The vital phenomena,’ says he, ‘depend upon so many unknown springs, held together under such various circumstances, which observation vainly attempts to appreciate, that these problems, from not being stated with all their conditions, absolutely defy calculation. Hence whenever writers on mechanics have endeavoured to subject the laws of life to their method, they have furnished the scientific world with a remarkable spectacle, well entitled to our most serious consideration. The terms they employed were correct, the process of reasoning strictly logical, and, nevertheless, all the results were erroneous. Further, although the language and the method of employing it were the same among all the calculators, each of them obtained distinct and different results; and it is by the application of this method of investigation to subjects to which it is altogether inapplicable, that systems the most whimsical, fallacious, and contradictory, have been maintained.’
D’Alembert, in his treatise on Hydrodynamics, acknowledges that the velocity of the blood in its passage through the vessels entirely resists every kind of calculation. Senebier made a similar observation in his
Essai sur l’Art d’observer, (vol. 1, page 81.)
Whatever has been said by able teachers and judicious philosophers, in relation to our conclusions in natural science, is much more applicable to moral; and points out the cause of our always being misled in political economy, whenever we have subjected its phenomena to mathematical calculation. In such case it becomes the most dangerous of all abstractions.
“In relation to labour I will remark, that not only in productions which are entirely the work of art, as in painting, sculpture, engraving, etc., but likewise in productions of nature, as on metals, minerals, and plants, their value is entirely derived from the labour bestowed on their creation. The quantity of matter affects the value of things only so far as it requires more or less labour.”
In the same chapter Galiani also remarks, that man, that is to say his labour, is the only correct measure of value. This, also, according to Dr. Smith, is a principle; although considered by me as an error.
created by labour, there may then be a new description of wealth in the world, not taken from anybody. Indeed, this author in his Dialogues on the Corn Trade, published in France a long time afterwards, has himself, in a very peculiar manner, pronounced his own condemnation. “A truth,” he observes, “which is brought to light by pure accident, like a mushroom in a meadow, is of no value; we cannot make use of it, if we are ignorant of its origin and consequences; or how and by what chain of reasoning it is derived.”
Don Jose Queypo, an individual alike distinguished by his abilities and patriotism, whose remarks I have only copied.
Galiani, in which the science of political economy is treated in the humorous manner of Tristram Shandy. An important truth is asserted, and when the author is called upon for its proof, he replies with some ingenious pleasantry.
questions of right with
matters of fact. Of what consequence, for instance, is the question so long agitated in the writings of the economists, whether the sovereign power in a country is, or is not, the co-proprietor of the soil? The fact is, that in every country the government takes, or in the shape of taxes the people are compelled to furnish it with, a part of the revenue drawn from real estate. Here then is a fact, and an important one; the consequence of certain facts, which we can trace up, as the cause of other facts (such as the rise in the price of commodities) to which we are led with certainty.
Questions of right are always more or less matters of opinion;
matters of fact, on the contrary, are susceptible of proof and demonstration. The former exercise but little influence over the fortunes of mankind; while the latter, inasmuch as facts grow out of each other, are deeply interesting to them; and, as it is of importance to us that some results should take place in preference to others, it is, therefore, essential to ascertain the means by which these may be obtained. The Social Contract of J. J. Rousseau, from being almost entirely founded upon questions of right, has thereby become, what I feel no hesitation in avowing, a work of at least but little practical utility.
Pietro Custodi, under the title of
Scrittori classici italiani di economia politica. It was unknown to me until after the publication of the first edition of this work in 1803.
Browne Dignan published in London, written in the French language, his
Essai sur les principes de l’Economie publique, containing the following remarkable passage: “The class of reproducers includes all who, uniting their labour to that of the vegetative power of the soil, or modifying the productions of nature in the processes of their several arts, create in some sort a
new value, of which the sum total forms what is called the
This striking passage, in which reproduction is more clearly characterised than in any part of Dr. Smith’s writings, did not lead its author to any important conclusions, but merely gave birth to a few scattered hints. A want of connexion in his views, and of precision in his terms, have rendered his Essay so vague and obscure, that no instruction whatever can be derived from it.
Grains, in the Encyclopedie,
Quesnay had remarked, that “commodities
which can be sold, ought always to be considered without distinction, either as pecuniary or real wealth, applicable to the purposes of whoever may make use of it.” This, in reality, is Dr. Smith’s
exchangeable value. De Verri had observed, (chapter 3) that
reproduction was nothing more than the reproduction of value, and that
the value of things constituted wealth. Galiani, as has been already noticed, had said, that
labour was the source of all value; but Dr. Smith, nevertheless, made these views his own by exhibiting, as we see, their connexion with all the other important phenomena, and in demonstrating them even by their consequences.
temporary and permanent emigration, considered in reference to national wealth. Any person, however, well acquainted with the principles of this science, would find no difficulty in arriving at the same conclusions.
The time is not distant when not only writers on finance, but on history and geography, will be required to possess a knowledge of at least the fundamental principles of political economy. A modern treatise on Universal Geography, (vol. 2, page 602,) a work in other respects denoting extensive research and information, contains the following passage: “The number of inhabitants of a country is the basis of every good system of finance; the more numerous is its population, the greater height will its commerce and manufactures attain; and the extent of its military force be in proportion to the amount of its population.” Unfortunately, every one of these positions may be erroneous. National revenue, necessarily consisting either of the income of the public property, or of the contributions, in the shape of taxes, drawn from the incomes of individuals, does not depend upon the number, but upon the wealth, and above all, upon the incomes of the people. Now, an indigent multitude has the fewer contributions to yield, the more mouths it has to feed. It is not the numerical population of a state, but the capital and genius of its inhabitants, that most conduce to the advancement of its commerce; these benefit population much more than they are benefited by it. Finally, the number of troops a government can maintain depends still less upon the extent of its population than upon its revenues; and it has been already seen that revenue is not dependent upon population.
Turgot’s Reflections sur la formation et la distribution aes richesses, in which he has introduced various views on both these subjects, either entirely erroneous, or very imperfect.
Essai sur les finances de la Grand-Bretagne,” by
Gentz, and apology for Mr. Pitt’s system of finance, is of this description; so also is
Thornton’s Inquiry into the nature and effects of paper credit, written with a view to justify the suspension of cash payments by the bank of England; as well as a great number of other works on the same subject, and in relation to the corn laws.
popular treatise, I do not mean a treatise for the use of persons who neither know how to read, nor to make any use of it. By this expression, I mean a treatise not exclusively addressed to professional or scientific cultivators of this particular branch of knowledge, but one calculated to be read by every intelligent and useful member of society.
Marcet) has published a work,
Conversations on Political Economy,” since translated into French, in which the soundest principles are explained in a familiar and pleasing style.
Logique, chap. 8.
Book I, Chapter I