Popular Political Economy: Four Lectures Delivered at the London Mechanics' Institution
Diversity of opinions as to the utility of the science—Reasons for defining it.—Mr. M'Cullock's definition.—Consumption discarded.—Dr. Smith confined the science to production and distribution.—Phenomena to which the science relates, illustrated by a reference to the United States of America and New Holland, to the continent of Europe, and to the ancient empires of Asia; and by a reference to the productive power of savages, and of civilized man—Land, and all other physical circumstances, not belonging to man himself, excluded from the science.—The science is confined to the consideration of Labour, which produces all wealth; and it embraces all the natural and social circumstances which influence the production and distribution of wealth, discovering the former and examining the latter.—Dr. Smith only examines, and does not prescribe social regulations.
TWO very different opinions prevail in society regarding political economy. On the one hand it is described as the most important of all the sciences, and indispensable to the welfare of society. It is said to explain the laws which regulate our condition, and teach us how it may be improved. "Its object," we are told, "is to point out the means by which the industry of man may be rendered most productive of necessaries, comforts, and enjoyments." "There are few branches of human knowledge," says Mr. Malthus, "in which false views may do more harm, or just views more good." Persons who entertain these opinions, would have the principles of political economy, inculcated at school, like the most common branches of education, and made the basis of all legislation. So far do they carry their respect for its doctrines, that by them they would regulate the intercourse of the sexes, and all the relations of social life.
On the other hand, there is a large class of persons who never mention political economy without a sneer. They deny that any such science does or can exist; and deride those who undertake to teach it. "Some of its doctrines," it is stated by Mrs. Marcet, one of its most distinguished ornaments, "are repugnant to the impulse of the heart, and the feelings of uninformed benevolence;" and all the class of mere sentimentalists cannot bear to hear them enunciated. They say it degrades the labourer to a machine, and calculates the price of his bones and thews, as if they were parts of a steam engine; that it takes no account of man, "the head, the heart, and tongue of all," but as he is a portion or "doze" of capital; and all his noble faculties are only noticed, in this science, as they convert him into a more powerful instrument for producing wealth. They turn with disdain from political economy, because it makes individuals selfish, and corrupts our national councils. No calamity falls on the country, no alteration takes place in the course of trade, no struggle ensues among workmen to obtain higher wages, no discontent breaks into open day, no distress overwhelms the manufacturer, no affliction falls on the peasantry, which is not or has not been attributed to the influence of political economy, over the minds of the legislature.
It is impossible to reconcile these contradictory views; but as both are prevalent, being repeatedly met with in the public journals, and continually reproduced in Parliament, as well as among all classes of the people, it seems desirable to make the reader thoroughly aware of the object and scope of that natural science, which has received the erroneous name of Political Economy;—demonstrating its possible existence; describing, in the course of the work, its present boundaries; and showing briefly, but distinctly, in what manner it has been confined far within its legitimate range, or perverted from its peculiar object. If, on the one hand, there be a natural science of national wealth, there can be no more wisdom in despising it, than in despising the natural science of astronomy or botany; if on the other, it be incomplete and imperfectly known, we shall understand why the presumption of those who have undertaken to regulate society by their opinions, should excite both indignation and contempt. Whether the aim of disarming mockery, and exposing presumption, be accomplished or not, I may at least hope to prevent the reader from indulging an exaggerated notion of what the science can perform, or encourage him to conquer his prejudices, and seek for extended information in more elaborate works.
"Political Economy," is defined by Mr. M'Culloch, to be "the science of the laws which regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of those articles or products which have exchangeable value, and are either necessary, useful, or agreeable to man.*1 Many very useful articles, such as air, light, and water, under some circumstances, have no exchangeable value, and are not included in the term wealth. Whenever labour is required to produce a commodity it receives, and most commodities, which are the product of labour, possess the quality of exchangeable value, and are included under the term wealth; commodities not produced by labour, and which no labour is required to obtain, do not possess exchangeable value. To this doctrine, land forms a remarkable exception. Labour improves and fertilizes it; but it possesses, in most cases, exchangeable value independent of the labour vested in it; and in all cases more exchangeable value than is measured by that labour. How land comes to form this exception, will be hereafter explained; but as all consideration of land, with its varied degrees of fertility, will be expressly excluded from this Work; as exchangeable value is, in all other cases, given by labour, the science of which I am to treat, is strictly and exclusively confined to labour and its products.
The distribution of wealth contemplated by political economists is, according to the same author, "the proportions in which the various products of labour are distributed among the different classes in society;" or it is the appropriation of the products of labour, and is quite distinct from the actual distribution of commodities made by trade. Those to whom much is distributed, or who have the power of appropriating much, will consume or use much; or they may give it to others to consume, with a view to subsequent profit, or for the pleasure of giving. The particular manner in which they dispose of what they receive, may ultimately affect production; but their consumption or use will be co-equal with what they receive. Landlords and opulent capitalists will fare sumptuously every day themselves; they will keep a number of servants to minister to their luxuries, or they will set labourers to work for the sake of obtaining a profit on their labour. On the contrary, those who receive or own little, cannot consume much. Labourers have a bare subsistence. The mode in which wealth is distributed, has a vast influence on subsequent production; but for all practical and scientific purposes, distribution and consumption are precisely the same. In consuming wealth, the object is to support life, or give a zest to existence; and the most agreeable methods of consumption must be settled by the taste of each individual. If they be in any respect the subject of scientific consideration, they do not fall in the department of the economist, but in that of the cook, the physician, or the moral philosopher. Consumption may, therefore, be discarded from political economy, and we thus arrive at a more simple, and equally comprehensive definition. It is the science of ALL the circumstances or laws which influence the productive power of labour, and which regulate and determine the distribution of all the products of labour.
This limitation agrees with the writings of Dr. Smith. He has no where accurately defined or described that science which is now called political economy; but it is generally admitted that all the scientific part of his great Work, "The Wealth of Nations," is comprised in the first book, which relates exclusively to the "Productive Powers of Labour," and to "the order according to which its produce is naturally distributed among the different ranks of the people." Not one word is said in the title of this book of consumption; nor is there one chapter of the "Wealth of Nations" dedicated to this subject. Consumption, therefore, has been needlessly fastened on the science by Dr. Smith's commentators and disciples; and by discarding it we return to his more simple, and equally comprehensive arrangement.
Perhaps the reader may form a more distinct notion of the interesting sort of phenomena to which political economy relates, and certainly the importance of the science will not be diminished in his estimation, by briefly adverting, in the first instance, to some historical events. I allude more particularly to the progress made, almost within our own recollection, by North America and New Holland, in population and wealth,—the nearly stationary state of some nations, and the decay and ruin of others.
More than three centuries have now elapsed since the discovery of America; but it was only at the commencement of the seventeenth century that the first English colony was permanently established in the northern part of that continent; the only inhabitants of which, prior to that period, were a few tribes of Indians, who wandered over the whole country, and obtained, by hunting and fishing, a precarious subsistence. Their descendants have continued ever since their wandering mode of life, and seem to have decreased in numbers as they have been narrowed in their hunting limits by the children of the first colonists. The Europeans, on the contrary, after they had overcome the immense difficulties attendant on a settlement in a foreign and new country, rapidly increased in numbers; they occupied and used all the land in the immediate neighbourhood of their first establishments, and have since gradually spread themselves over a large part of that continent. The present dominions of the United States, east of the Mississippi, contain about 900,000 square miles; and the Government claims a still larger territory west of this river. But though they claim, they do not occupy all this territory. Before the colonies separated from the Mother Country, they contained nearly 2,000,000 souls.*2 By the census of 1820, the population of the United States amounted very nearly to 10,000,000; and at present, in the year 1827, it will probably be upwards of 12,000,000. A small part only therefore of that immense continent, which formerly supplied, and scarcely supplied, a few wandering Indians with the necessaries of life, now maintains, in unprecedented general opulence, this mighty people. In the history of the whole world there is no other well authenticated instance of such a powerful nation being formed in so short a time, without conquest or usurpation. It has not subdued and incorporated with it contending tribes, and nations already populous; it has grown up naturally to its present strength. Under the benignant influence of European knowledge and arts, its people have increased so rapidly, and have advanced with such giant strides in the career of national power and prosperity, that they have put to shame those old, and now, thank God, almost superannuated schemes for adding to national prosperity by fraud and violence; and even those more modern, but perhaps not much less absurd plans for accomplishing the same object, by numerous restrictive regulations.
Towards the close of the last century convicts were first sent from Great Britain to New South Wales; and at the beginning of the present century, free settlers first went to that colony in considerable numbers. Already, however, two or three flourishing towns have been built; and a very small nook of that island, which is so large as to have been called, by some geographers, a fifth quarter of the globe, and which, when first discovered by Europeans, only supplied the means of subsistence to a few straggling state of degradation and destitution, who dragged on a miserable existence, subject to numerous privations, being hardly able to perpetuate their race, now supplies an abundance of food for several thousand persons, and is capable of enabling many millions to subsist. The only want there is of human beings, who know how to make use of the rich bounties of nature.
In Europe, most of the continental nations make a very slow progress in wealth, and are nearly stationary in opulence and population. With the exception of the neighbourhood of their respective capitals, and some few spots in France, there is hardly a country on the continent of Europe where new buildings are met with. The revenue of the monarch, who takes to himself all the disposable produce of his subjects, being spent in adorning his own residence, creates a demand for more habitations in his immediate neighbourhood; but, in general, and the fact is so well known, as not to require proof, the greater part of the continental nations increase very slowly in wealth and population.
The whole of Europe is supposed, by the author of the article Europe, in the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica, to double its population once in about 90 years; Dr. Smith says once in 500 years; while, in the United States, the population is doubled once in every 25 years. In Britain, Russia, Silesia, and some other countries, says the author of the same article, the increase has been more rapid than in the rest of Europe. This increase, slow as it is, the reader must be made aware, has no relation whatever, as is generally supposed, to extent of country, or fertility of soil; for the increase has been much more rapid in Britain within the last fifty years, where the people amount to 158 on every square mile, than in Poland,—if, in fact, the population of that country have increased at all, which is doubtful,—where the number of persons to each square mile is only 59; and it has been probably, on the whole, as rapid as in Russia, where the number of persons to each square mile is only 21.
As some nations have risen, and are rising to opulence and power, and as some are nearly stationary, so others which have received the fairest portions of the earth for an inheritance, are fast sinking, or have sunk, from the possession of wealth and splendour, into poverty, weakness, and decay. None of my readers can require to be reminded of the ancient empires of Assyria, Persia, and Egypt, of ancient Greece and Rome, or of Italy and Turkey; the once populous and flourishing condition of these parts of the earth being attested in many places, even to this day, by the ruins of several vast cities, by splendid monuments of ancient art, and by the mouldering parts of gigantic works, which the most powerful of modern nations would shrink from undertaking. Man has, in one age, exhibited his wonderful prolific and creative powers, apparently, only to prove in the next, that they were not more than equalled by his power to destroy. His hand fertilizes and adorns the face of the earth, which he also reduces to a melancholy ruin. In the eastern and most anciently-known part of the world, we find unerring proofs of the power of labour to improve, and of ambition to devastate. If we could not account, and satisfactorily account for this alternation of prosperity and misery, by the prevalence of one conspicuous error—the reverence of man for the very authority which works his ruin,—we might be tempted to believe, that there was no permanent desire of happiness implanted in his bosom, or that the world was not adapted to his capacities. But the governments of the Sultan in the east, and of the Pope in the west, which are more honoured by their subjects even than the Divinity, have converted the once blooming parts of Asia and Italy into deserted wastes. Rome, it is conjectured by Gibbon, formerly contained not less than twelve hundred thousand inhabitants, but at present, they scarcely exceed a tenth part of that number. "In the ancient registers of imposts," we are told by Volney, "3200 villages were reckoned in the district of Aleppo; but at present, the collector can scarcely find 400." All history convinces us, that the devastations of war, the effects of plagues, of inundations, and of all natural calamities, are soon cleared away by the hand of industry, whenever man is not brutally ignorant, and government not desperately oppressive. Domestic oppression is a more certain source of national ruin than foreign conquest. It is not a change of tyrants, but continual, even though legitimate, tyranny, which extinguishes a people. The sultan, with his pachas, muftis, cadies, and janissaries, are the only instruments capable, by appropriating the produce of the labourer, and destroying the hope of enjoyment, of putting an end to production, and of stifling or exterminating his subjects. If there be, therefore, as America and New Holland testify, natural sources of national greatness, there are, as the whole of the eastern and most parts of the western world prove, social causes of depopulation and national decay.
Not only do nations increase rapidly under some circumstances, while under others they fall into decay; but they differ very much as to the comfort and opulence enjoyed by the individuals who compose them. It is distinctly ascertained, for example, that in the United States of America, the great majority of the people are abundantly supplied with the means of subsistence, they are well fed, comfortably clothed, active, enterprising, intelligent, and moral; while, in those eastern countries, the great mass of the people obtain only a meagre and wretched subsistence; they are the victims of continually recurring plagues and want; and are ignorant, slothful, revengeful, blood-thirsty, and barbarous. Individuals must be able to obtain with tolerable facility the means of subsistence to increase in numbers; so that the natural growth of national greatness, such as we witness in America, and the prevalence of individual comfort and morality, are strictly coincident. On the other hand, when nations cease to increase in numbers, when they begin to decay, we may be quite sure the power of the natural principle of population is so great, that in them the mass of the people cannot easily obtain the means of subsistence. Individual poverty, a scanty population, its slow growth, or national decay, also accompany one another.
It may be easily anticipated, that the increase of a nation, or its stationary state, will be accompanied by different degrees of productive power. "Among the savage nations of hunters and fishers," such as were the only inhabitants of America and New Holland, before the Europeans went to those countries, "Every individual," says Dr. Smith, "who is able to work, is more or less employed in useful labour, and endeavours to provide, as well as he can, the necessaries and conveniences of life for himself and such of his family or tribe as are either too old or too young, or too infirm, to go a hunting and fishing. Such nations, however, are so miserably poor, that from mere want, they are frequently reduced, or at least think themselves reduced, to the necessity of sometimes directly destroying, and sometimes abandoning their infants, their old people, and those afflicted with lingering diseases, to perish with hunger, or to be devoured by wild beasts. Among civilised and thriving nations, on the contrary, though a great number of the people do not labour at all, many of whom consume the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times, more labour than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is so great, that all are often abundantly supplied; and a workman, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he be frugal and industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire."*3
Taking our own country as an example and illustration, only a part of the females, of the children, and youth, though this part is much too large, labour for the support of society. There are, moreover, all the officers of government, all the persons connected with the administration of justice, the army and navy, the clergy, the landlords, with all those who live on their property, together with a long list of professional men, who in no wise directly contribute to the subsistence, the clothing, or the comfort of the community.
From the population returns of 1820, it appears, that the number of families employed in agriculture in Great Britain was 798,656, the number of families engaged in trade and handicrafts was 1,350,239, and the number of families engaged in neither of these two occupations was 612,488. This account does not include, I believe, the army and navy, and a large class of professional men, not being housekeepers. According to this enumeration, however, Mr. Rickman states, that 333 families out of every 1000 are employed in raising subsistence for the whole society.*4 It is difficult to ascertain what proportion of the society actually provides all the food and clothing we consume, because many of the families described as engaged in handicrafts serve only to minister to the luxuries of a few; and because there are no means of knowing what number of persons in each family actually labour. In some trades, that of the cotton spinner for example, both the parents and some of the children are constantly employed; while, in other trades, such as those of the carpenter and the smith, only the man labours. There are also a large number of persons who do not labour, on account of age or infirmity. To conjecture what number of individuals actually provide for the comfortable subsistence of the whole, we must add to the families engaged in agriculture those engaged in trade and handicrafts; and we must subtract those members of each family, such as the extremely young, and the extremely aged, the sick and the imbecile, in short, all those who are either incapable of labouring, or are excused from labour by the customs of the society. If we suppose that two persons in each family do not labour, which is a low estimate, we shall conclude that less than one-sixth of the people are engaged in agricultural pursuits, and that not above one-fourth of our whole population provides every thing which is consumed by us all. Among savages all the men and women labour; their labour barely supplies the necessaries of life, and they increase very slowly, if at all, in numbers; while in civilized society the labour of only a small part of the people supplies numerous conveniencies and luxuries, and the society grows in population and power.
These passages have, I hope, placed distinctly before the reader two remarkable contrasts, in both of which the comfort and opulence of individuals is closely connected with increasing national greatness. Under the same circumstances of climate, soil, and situation, we see, on the one hand, that nations increase rapidly in wealth and power, and in them the mass of the people are comparatively opulent; on the other, that they do not increase or actually decay, and the people are comparatively poor. In the two states of society there is a prodigious difference in the productive power of individuals: the labour of each, in one state, subsisting a great number of persons; in the other, barely procuring food for himself. Now we want to know all the circumstances which influence the productive power of labour, the prosperity or decay of nations, and, in a general sense, the opulence and poverty of individuals; and to ascertain all these circumstances is the great OBJECT of political economy.
It is, however, not a little remarkable that we may at once reject from our inquiries all the physical circumstances, and all material things not inherent in man himself, and not created by labour, which are supposed in general to influence most strongly the prosperity of our race. Climate and situation, however apparently influential, have in reality so slight a degree of power, and their peculiar effects depend on causes so little known to us, that at present they are inappreciable. They were the same, we have every reason to believe, in the eastern world three or four thousand years ago, as at present; and certainly they were the same for the American Indians, and for the savages of New Holland, as for the Europeans; and they are the same in modern as in ancient Italy; except, indeed, that it seems to be satisfactorily proved, that the climate of all countries is improved by the multiplication of people, and deteriorated by their decrease and decay.
The land falls not within the limits of the science any more than the sea or the air. It was as extensive for the Indians in America as for the Europeans; and the dimensions of Asia have not been curtailed since the days of its splendour. There is no reason to believe that it is less fertile now than when it nourished the inhabitants of the vast empires already mentioned. Little as the continent of America yielded to the savage, it yielded even that little only to his labour; and excluding from our view the different kind and degree of labour exercised by the two races, it now yields as much to him as to the civilized European. In fact, the spontaneous productions of the most fertile districts, do not amount to the ten thousandth part of what civilized man can obtain from the soil. Labour, enlightened, well-directed labour, converts the sterile rock into a fertile field; and it is no exaggeration to say that it gathers bread from the salt wave.
To show more distinctly the inefficiency of fertility, and the immense power of labour, let me remind the reader of the wealth and comfort formerly enjoyed by the inhabitants of the marshès of Holland, and of the poverty and destitution suffered by the people, generally, of the South of Europe, but particularly of Italy and Spain. The soil, and the ships, and the houses; the villas, the gardens, the mills, of the industrious and once mighty people of the former, may all be said to have been won from the bosom of the ocean; while the possession of a large tract of the most fertile land of Europe cannot give comfort, power, or splendour to the latter. The dominions of the Sultan would make several Englands; they are traversed by some of the finest rivers of the old world; they contain many admirable situations for commerce; they easily communicate with Europe and India; they are placed in a temperate climate; and if mere fertility could give wealth, all their inhabitants might be delightfully opulent: but the great mass of them are poor and wretched, and the nation is impotent and degraded.
Perhaps, however, the different progress made by the United States of America, and the Spanish colonies in the Southern part of that continent, afford the best illustration of the total inefficacy of a boundless territory and of inexhaustible fertility, in making individuals wealthy and nations powerful. The Spanish colonies were established in America nearly a century before the British colonies were settled in the North of that continent; they found there two extensive and populous nations, whom they conquered and employed as slaves to add to their own wealth. The fertility of that country is such, that we are told by Humboldt,*5 "A spot of ground in New Spain cultivated with bananas, is sufficient for the subsistence of more than fifty persons; while an equal space in Europe cultivated with wheat, would not nourish above two." "The labour (and it is rude, untutored labour) of one individual, two days in the week, is there sufficient to support a numerous family. In Mexico, maize yields on an average one hundred and fifty fold, while in Europe, the farmer thinks his crop excellent if he obtain eight bushels of wheat for the one he sows." But it is well known that the Spanish colonies in this favoured situation, have not increased in wealth, power, and population, equally with the British colonies, now the United States. I have already mentioned the number of their people; but to enable the reader to form a more accurate comparison, I shall add, that when Humboldt wrote he estimated the number of Whites inhabiting them to be 8,575,000, while the whole number of Whites in all Spanish America was only 3,276,000.*6 All the supposed advantages of fertility, and of an open country, belong to the Spaniards; but the enlightened industry of the Anglo-Americans has far more than compensated for these advantages, and has enabled them to multiply much faster than the Spaniards.
Nor does the vast fertility of Mexico save the people from famine: "The streets of the capital," says Humboldt, "are crowded with between twenty and thirty thousand unfortunate wretches, who pass the night without any shelter, and lounge in the sun by day, entirely naked, or only covered with a blanket. They never ask charity, and if they labour one or two days in the week, they earn as much as they require to purchase maize, or some of the ducks which abound on the lakes of Mexico, and which are roasted in their own fat." "Famines," he adds, "are very common in almost all these regions, and occur whenever a great drought, or any other local cause, injures the harvest of maize." With an almost boundless extent of good fertile land, a people may suffer from famine, which is never experienced in countries less favoured by these physical circumstances. Land, therefore, however fertile, does not create wealth, any more than sunshine and rain; and as well as these, it may, both as to dimensions and fertility, be entirely overlooked without the chance of falling into an error.
I beg the reader to recollect that I do not assert, that what we call fertility in soils, which is in all cases, however, a quality relative to our knowledge at the moment we speak, has no influence whatever on the quantity of labour necessary to procure subsistence; but that influence is so unimportant, compared to the effects of knowledge-guided labour, that it may be neglected. Thus, rejecting situation, land, and fertility, the most important physical circumstances which are supposed to influence the prosperity of our race, we may reject from the science all other physical circumstances, except the powers and faculties of man, and what he creates.
It must always be remembered, though it seems hardly necessary to state it, that all wealth is created by labour, and there is no wealth which is not the produce of labour. "The annual labour," says Dr. Smith, "of every nation, is the fund which originally, and at all times, supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life." "What is bought by money or with goods is purchased by labour, (i.e. the labour of obtaining the money, or manufacturing the goods) as much as what we acquire by the toil of our own bodies." "Labour was the first price, the original purchase money that was paid for all things. It is not by gold, or by silver, but by labour that all the wealth of the world was orginally purchased."*7 Such language appears much at variance with the commonly received opinion, that land is the great source of all wealth; which makes it, in this country, be erroneously regarded as pre-eminently deserving the name of property. But the reader may be satisfied, by Dr. Smith's authority, as well as my arguments, that land, like atmospheric air and sunshine, is only one of the material elements indispensable to the production of food. With them, it gives us food as labour directs the fructifying power that is the result of their combined operation. Even its wild and spontaneous productions, which alone give it the characteristic of wealth, must be gathered and appropriated by labour. "Place us," says Mr. M'Culloch, "on the banks of a river, or in an orchard, and we shall infallibly perish of thirst or hunger, if we do not, by an effort of industry, raise the water to our lips, or pluck the fruit from the parent-tree."*8
Familiar and correct as the principle, that all wealth is the produce of labour, may appear, the opinion just referred to, that land is the source of wealth—which is the fountain of much injustice towards individuals, and much national animosity, it having been the occasion of several wars, and the excuse for much usurpation—shows that this principle is not universally recognized. As it is the only safe basis, however, on which the legislator can establish a right of property—if he be at all called on to establish what exists naturally; as it is not only the source of all wealth, but the guide to just distribution, serving at all times to set straight the consciences of individuals when led astray by self-interest, and to rectify the policy of legislators when perverted by false views of expediency; the reader may not be displeased at my quoting the following accurate and striking illustration of it:—
"If I abstract from my watch," says M. Canard, "by means of reflection, all the labour which has been successively applied to it, there will remain nothing but some grains of mineral placed in the interior of the earth, whence they have been extracted, and where they had no value whatever. If I decompose in the same manner the bread which I eat, and separate successively all the labour which it has received, there remains only a few stalks of a gramineous herb scattered in the uncultivated desert, and destitute of value."*9
Perhaps as striking an illustration may be drawn from what is at this moment taking place before my eyes. Opposite to me are some bricklayers and carpenters building houses, and the chief materials they employ are bricks, mortar, and wood. The instruments, tools, and nails they use, being chiefly made of iron, may be referred, like the materials of M. Canard's watch, to their primitive situation in the bowels of the earth. The bricks are made of refuse ashes, that were an incumbrance before they were used for this purpose;—of clay, that was removed to make a road, and which, in like manner, till its conversion into bricks, was an impediment to performing other operations, and was worse than valueless. The fuel used to burn them was originally hidden some fathoms beneath the surface of the earth, and even to get at it required a great deal of labour. The mortar is composed of sand dug up to make a foundation for the houses, and must have been removed, whether put to this use or not; and of lime, which previous to being converted by the hand of labour into this substance, was hungry barren chalk, the object of the farmer's maledictions. A few months back, the wood, encumbered the ground in Norway or in America; and, if in the latter, was probably thought such a nuisance, that the people were thankful to any body who removed it. Till the ground was cleared of trees, it was of no use to them. But out of these valueless and worthless materials, the combined labour of the brickmaker, the bricklayer, the sawyer, the carpenter, the tool-makers, &c. &c. constructs valuable dwellings, which shelter their owners from all the inclemencies of the seasons; or, if other persons use them, add to their annual revenue. That mighty mass of wealth, therefore, which stands around Saint Paul's, constituting this great and splendid Metropolis, has been made by labour, and by nothing else than labour, from common clay, from barren chalk, and from trees that men were obliged to root out, before they could obtain a head of cabbage or an ear of grain, from the soil. Beautiful as they are, trees only encumber the ground which the agriculturist must cultivate.
Mr. M'Culloch, from whose writings I extracted the passage quoted above, may well say, therefore, "labour is the talisman that has raised man from the condition of the savage—that has changed the desert and the forest into cultivated fields—that has covered the earth with cities, and the ocean with ships—that has given us plenty, comfort, and elegance, instead of want, misery, and barbarism."
To me it is always pleasant to find the language of science confirmed by the authority of the poets, who, obtaining popularity only by describing or appealing to the general feelings and sentiments of mankind, may be supposed to be their most accurate representatives. Supporting the scientific view just taken, Thomson says—
"ALL is the gift of industry; whate'er
Having thus established the principle, that all wealth is created by labour, it follows that the whole difference between the productive power of a tribe of savages and of a civilized society, between a community in which every individual is opulent, and one in which all are in a state of destitution, between a nation rising into power and one stationary or sinking to decay, must be referred to the different modes in which labour is applied and its produce distributed. And thus the whole science of political economy is comprised, as already stated, within the circumstances which influence the productive power of labour, and determine the distribution of its products.
The whole of these circumstances may be divided into two classes; first, NATURAL CIRCUMSTANCES, or laws not dependent on, or derived from government,—such as the passions and faculties of man, the laws of his animal existence,—and the relations between him and the external world; and, secondly, SOCIAL REGULATIONS, depending on, or originating with governments,—such as those permanent laws which appropriate the soil of a country, or which bestow on it a constitution, establishing a diversity of ranks among its inhabitants; as well as the laws for the regulation of trade and the acts of the Administration, many of which are expressly intended to add to the wealth of society, or determine its distribution.
It was customary, not many years ago, with philosophers, and with the people generally, to ascribe national prosperity and individual opulence exclusively to forms of government and modes of administration. Every social blessing was then supposed to flow from wise laws well administered.
"To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
was flatteringly said to be the attribute of statesmen; and, in general, they received credit with the world for being able, not only to confer abundance, but to promote virtue and secure happiness. But when the colonies of North America, consisting of grubbers and back-woodsmen, with a scorn of all regulations except those the people hewed out for themselves,—with a complete individual liberty, and few or none of the shackles of a paternal or politico-economical government, became the mighty people of the United States, increasing still more in prosperity and power as they got rid of the protection of a European government,—men plainly saw that the pretended wisdom of legislation had no effect in producing national prosperity whatever might be its influence over national decay; and they were obliged to seek for the causes of general welfare in the benevolent provisions of nature. About the same period there arose in France a sect of philosophers, called the Economists, "who proceeded," says Mr. Dugald Stewart, "on the supposition that social order is, in the most essential respects, the result of the wisdom of nature, and not of human contrivance." Dr. Adam Smith seems to have embraced the same opinion. Having examined numerous social regulations, but particularly the laws which regulated the trade between Britain and its colonies, and having found that these laws had injured the prosperity of both countries, he was compelled to seek other causes for the growth of that opulence, which could not be denied, than the wisdom of government; and he found them in the interests, passions, instincts, and affections of mankind. He taught, that the division of labour among individuals, and the wonderful co-operation of different classes of labourers to produce a common result, by which the productive power of the whole is amazingly increased, are not the result of human or legislative wisdom, foreseeing and willing the sublime, and for us most important, effect of general opulence, but of an instinct in man, by which he takes to this peculiar practice, as a duck takes to the water and a fox to his cave. It is with these natural interests, passions, instincts, and affections, and with their consequences,—they not being suspended at any moment, and continuing to operate as powerfully when society is in its most advanced state as at its commencement,—that political economy principally deals. To them this book will be almost exclusively confined; on them, and on their permanency, together with the permanency of those laws by which the material world excites similar sensations in us, at all times and places, is founded the natural science of national wealth. In every subsequent page they will find a prominent place. At present, therefore, I shall confine myself to giving the reader one or two examples of them, pointing out the principle on which they are assumed as the basis of the science.
The foundation of all national greatness is the increase of the people: but unless there existed, at all times and places, a natural and almost irrepressible tendency in the human species to increase, and a natural capability of providing for their wants, how could they have spread themselves over so large a portion of the globe,—founding, in times past, those mighty empires already alluded to; which, though they may have been aggrandised by conquests, must have found human beings to subdue as well as soil to appropriate, and must have contained human beings as the agents of appropriation and conquest? Or how could the forests of Germany have been cleared, and the marshes of Britain drained, had not the people outgrown the spontaneous means of subsistence which adorned the ground, sparkled on the hedges, or dropped from the stately tree? when they,
—"Sad barbarians, roving, mixed
Or how could the forests of America be now cleared, and European manners and civilization spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific, did Europe not pour out its superabundant people on America; and did not the industrious inhabitants of the existing United States multiply so fast, that their paternal acres will not conveniently supply them with the means of subsistence? Unless there was in the human heart a natural love of life, and an instinctive love of offspring, which no privations can subdue, no labour extinguish;—unless individual industry, the only source of national opulence, had in general exceeded social oppression, and been at all times greater than was necessary to supply the individual's wants—how could any race of people have multiplied and improved; seeing that in no country, and at no time, not even in the United States of America, far less in New Holland, have the labourers ever enjoyed or been suffered to consume the whole of their own produce? At all times and places labourers have had a number of persons to maintain more than themselves and their own families. Thus, originally and naturally, man is endowed with a productive power commensurate to his wants; and that power enables individuals to rear up families, and maintain in idleness and opulence a number of persons more than themselves. This natural productive power—the gift, not of governments, but of our Creator—is the great source of individual opulence and of national greatness.
But this power must be exerted; and are there natural motives, independent of the stimuli derived from governments, for the exertion? There are. Man is doomed to eat bread by the sweat of his brow; and naturally those who do not work can have nothing to eat. If we do not labour, we can have no food, and must inevitably perish. This is as certain as any axiom of mathematics; and the stimulus to labour involved in it, comprehending our existence, is as great as possible. "Industry," says Mr. M'Cullock, "does not require to be stimulated by extrinsic advantages;" nor, I shall add, by punishments or penalties. The necessity for man to labour, existing and operating among the rudest as well as among the most civilized people, in Europe and in America, in past as well as in present times—in short, in all countries and ages, and among all tribes and races of men, is a law of the universe, like the principle of gravity. It permanently and constantly influences and regulates the conduct of all mankind, just as gravity influences all bodies, even those which, like the water of a fountain, seem for a period to bid defiance to its power.
But is there no law regulating the external world corresponding to this necessity? Or has nature imposed the necessity on us, without making the material world answer to our hunger-driven labour? Quite the contrary. It is a law of our being, that we must eat bread by the sweat of our brow; but it is reciprocally a law of the external world, that it shall give bread for our labour, and give it only for labour. Thus we see that the world, every part of which is regulated by unalterable laws, is adapted to man, and man to the world. This reciprocity, or rather uniformity of the laws, regulating the conduct of man and the material world, connects him at all times, however high may be his bearings, and exalted his hopes, with the clod from which he sprang, and with the vast universe which he has intelligence to scan, and a soul to reverence. He is a part of the wisely regulated creation.
When nature stamped this law on us, and on the external world, she undoubtedly regulated and determined, through the endless succession of time, all its possible consequences. She left us to choose between starvation and labour; between holding the plough ourselves, and carrying a whip to make another hold it for us; between subsisting ourselves by our honest exertions, or basely or violently plundering some other persons; but she fixed beyond our control the consequences of our choice. There is ample reason to suppose, therefore, that all the minute branches of the production and distribution of wealth, are regulated and controlled by circumstances flowing from the necessity to labour; just as every part of the material world is regulated and controlled by natural laws. As gravity determines the stability of bodies on the globe, their motion towards the centre of the earth, and even the motion of those which seem to resist its power—they being forced upwards by the superior gravity of some other bodies—and regulates also the motion of the globe itself, as well as the motions of all the heavenly orbs; so the necessity to labour makes its influence felt, even in those cases, such as the steam-engine, in which man seems almost to have subdued Nature, making her perform the task she imposed on him. In such cases, the powerful instruments are made by labour; they require continual repair, which is done by labour; and they must always be directed and set in motion, which is also labour, by the hand of man.
But certain classes, it may be said, do not labour. The aged, the sick, the imbecile, and children, are supported by the labour of their friends. The receivers of rent and profit subsist on the produce of other men's labour; so do those who live on taxes. One individual may plunder another, or he may persuade him to give him subsistence. Social laws may compel some classes to labour for other classes, or may even give the whole annual produce to those who never labour. If we admit that the members of the government, and the ministers of the church, are labourers, who secure by their exertions the rights of other men, we cannot say the same for the slave-owners of the West Indies, or the mortgagees of their then property in London: we cannot say the same for the landlords and the fund holders of England, and for other similar classes. They are all subsisted and supported, supplied with all their wealth, by the labour of the slaves in the West Indies, or of the toil-worn and half-starved slave-descended labourers of Europe. Admitting that men have, to a certain degree, the power of throwing the necessity to labour off their own shoulders; as they may alter the direction of the influence of gravity, in making a fountain rise from the earth into the atmosphere; the question occurs, will throwing off this necessity, by the appropriation of other men's produce, not be followed by certain and inevitable consequences?
Now we know from all history, that unjust appropriation, that every long-continued attempt in one class of men to escape from the necessity of labour imposed on our race, that every infringment of a man's right to use, consume, and enjoy his own produce, has ever been attended with disastrous consequences. It is a violation of a natural law which never passes unpunished. Domestic slavery, combined with systems of foreign conquest and usurpation, ruined the empires of antiquity. The exactions of all the emissaries of the Turkish government, the total and forced disconnexion in that country between labour and its reward, are there the causes of national decay. The population of the West Indies does not increase. The almost unconquerable love of life—and the almost irrepressible power in our species to multiply and increase, are there subdued by oppression, or by the slave-owner's appropriation of the labourer and his produce. Such appear to me to be some of the natural and necessary consequences, for I have said nothing of the vast moral influence on the idlers themselves, of their attempts to escape from the necessity to labour. Let it be remarked, however, that notwithstanding their wish, and the evil consequences known to result from their conduct, they cannot, in fact, escape from this necessity. They only change the cheerful, healthy exertions of honest wealth-creating industry, for the irksome task of compelling slaves to toil. Slave-owners and rich men, among a crowd of slave-descended famishing labourers, lead probably a more anxious and toilsome life in protecting their property, and in enforcing obedience to their orders, than the slaves whose labour they extort.
Should it be said, that this statement is erroneous, that unjust appropriation does not invariably check production and ruin nations; yet there is a principle in our nature—a law of our mind, by which we at all times believe in the invariability of the order of the universe. This law applies to the moral as well as the material part of creation. By it we believe, for example, that the same circumstances which led in times past to the destruction of the ancient empires of Asia, and that are now leading to the ruin of modern Turkey, would, were they called into existence, effect the ruin of the flourishing states of North America; as, in fact, some such circumstances have checked the prosperity of South America; and by it believe that the principles of our animal constitution, which now spread people and civilization over the vast continent of America, are exactly the same as those which, three or four thousand years ago, carried the ancient empires of the world to the height of their splendour. But both the principles which lead to the ruin of empires, and those which impel them onward in the career of power and civilization, operate through man himself, affecting individual prosperity, and being only known by the influence they exercise over his conduct. Be they what they may, be their consequences what they may, their permanent, their immutable influence, cannot be denied. They have lived through all the known ages of the world; they have operated, and we have a conviction that they will operate, at all times and places. They may be extremely numerous; it may be difficult for us to discover them; they may be complicated and intricate; they may modify one another to an almost inconceivable extent; we may yet know very few of them: but we know they exist; they regulate or punish the conduct of man; they are co-extensive both in time and space with the existence of our species; and on their felt and acknowledged invariability is founded that natural science which has discovered some of them, which has for its object to discover them all, as far as they influence wealth, and which is known under the incorrect name of political economy.
I had intended to have shown at some length the close connexion between wealth and civilization, but my work is of too brief a description to allow me to do so; one single observation, however, will satisfy the reader, that an inquiry into the laws which regulate the production of wealth, is, in fact, an inquiry into the laws which regulate national prosperity and national decay, civilization and barbarism. It is now thoroughly established, that mankind multiply at all times as fast as they can obtain the means of subsistence; nothing can add to the number of people which does not augment the means of subsistence; nothing can check the natural tendency to increase which does not check the increase of the means of subsistence. But the means of subsistence, and the material instruments by which we facilitate the production of the means of subsistence, are all included under the term wealth. Thus an inquiry into the laws which regulate the production of wealth, is an inquiry into the laws which regulate the increase or the decrease of the people, and by their increase or decrease we judge of national prosperity.
Without entering into any detailed examination of the natural laws regulating production and distribution, for the developement of them belongs to the body of the work, I have pointed out the natural principle of national increase, and the natural law which is the basis of all production; and seeing that these are permanent and immutable, believing also that all their consequences are at all times as much regulated and controlled by natural laws as any part of the universe,—admitting that they may be complicated and numerous,—I contend, as our welfare depends on a knowledge of them, that we are as capable of discovering and arranging them into a science, as we are of discovering and arranging the laws, almost as complicated, which regulate the various affinities of the material world; many of which are at present known and acted on with singular advantage; and our knowledge of which constitutes the science of chemistry.
But social regulations, as well as natural laws, also influence the production and distribution of wealth. Both the permanent institutions of society, the form of its government—as is illustrated by Spain and England, by Turkey and the United States of America—and the varying laws for the regulation of trade, the acts of administration intended to add to the wealth of society, or to regulate its distribution, have a manifest influence, both on the quantity produced, and the manner in which it is disposed of. Taxes, when levied, as is generally the case, to maintain in idleness useless, or even worse than useless, individuals—their labour being more pernicious than total idleness—lessen the natural rewards of industry, prevent production, and alter the distribution of what is produced. Commercial prohibitions compel us to employ more labour than is necessary to obtain the prohibited commodity. They also curb the spirit of enterprise, and impede production, by checking the progress of knowledge and the acquirement of skill.
The corn laws of this country—to take an example of a social regulation influencing both production and distribution—compel all those who eat bread to give a greater quantity of labour to obtain it than nature requires; or they make us pay from fifteen to twenty shillings more for a quarter of wheat, than would otherwise be necessary; and they alter distribution, by putting, (through the medium of exchange, it must be remarked,) a part of the sum thus abstracted from the consumers into the pockets of the landlords.
These examples have been stated only to prove that there are two distinct classes of circumstances,—or natural circumstances, independent of all governments, and social circumstances, derived from governments,—which influence both the production and the distribution of wealth. The science of political economy, when complete, embraces both these classes of circumstances, and has no other limit than the WHOLE of them. But with the latter I shall not concern myself. The regulations resulting from government, which influence the wealth of society, are so numerous—there being, perhaps, not one which has not this effect, that I must necessarily act on the principle of excluding all notice of them from this work, except as they may incidentally illustrate the natural circumstances, to the consideration of which it will be chiefly confined.
It is necessary, however, to remark, that each of these two classes of circumstances must be treated in a perfectly distinct manner. "The natural laws," says M. Say, "which determine the prosperity of nations, their wealth, and civilization," are not the work of man; by analysis and observation we discover, we do not establish them.*10 We have first, therefore, to discover all the natural circumstances which influence production and distribution at all times and places; and by them, as a test, we examine the effects of social regulations. Before we can possibly tell what influence is exercised by the latter, we must ascertain all the former. "They domineer," says M. Say, "over the men who domineer over others, and never are they violated with impunity." They ought to be the rule of our conduct, and we must first ascertain the rule, before we can discover in what respect and degree it has been followed or forsaken. We ought always to remember, that all inquiries into the production and distribution of wealth, according to some present or pre-existing state of society; or as both may be limited and influenced by regulations emanating from governments, or constitutions of society, the offspring, perhaps, of some palpable violation of the natural laws of distribution, if not of production; though not wholly vain and unprofitable, must be shallow and imperfect.
We must make a distinction also, as to whether there can be, or not, a science of these different classes of circumstances. Of the natural laws and circumstances which regulate the production and distribution of wealth—they being as permanent and ascertainable as any other of the laws regulating the material world—there may be a science; but there can be no science of the regulations of any one government, or of all governments, for they vary, according to no discoverable rule, both of themselves and in relation to the ever altering circumstances of the people, for whom they are made. There may be a science of the natural principles by which legislators ought to regulate their conduct, but there can be no science of their decrees.
Both natural circumstances and social laws have, at present, a mingled and a varied influence on every political economical question. For example: a bad season, which destroys the crops, and the increase of population, which obliges men to plough up heaths, to cultivate moors, and to pulverise rocks into soil, are both natural circumstances, which have a tendency to enhance the price of the necessaries of life. But a law forbidding the importation of grain from countries where the season may have been more favourable, where the land is more fertile, or corn from any circumstances not so dear, has, it is plain, precisely the same tendency as a bad season or an increase of population. It requires, therefore, at all times, great care to distinguish between the effects of natural and unalterable circumstances, and of social regulations. Unless we do so, it is not possible for any man to tell how much of the misery we suffer, or the prosperity we enjoy, results from the laws of nature, and how much from the institutions of the lawgiver. Unfortunately, this distinction is seldom made with accuracy even by philosophers, and it never is made at all by the great mass of mankind. We are, therefore, perpetually liable to praise or censure our rulers without just reason, and to call on them to interfere where they cannot possibly do any good. They always profit by such calls to extend their power; and in the great majority of cases men are doomed to servitude by their own ignorance and their own impatience.
It is from not carefully distinguishing, which is necessary at all times, between these two classes of circumstances, that most of the disputes, and many of the mistakes relative to political economical questions arise. Men attribute to nature the evil which is caused by social institutions, and are led by their reverence, or rather their idolatry of the wisdom of their ancestors, to doubt the wisdom of the Deity. It is the mingled influence, also, of these two classes of circumstances, they modifying, correcting, and controlling one another, in modes more numerous than observation has yet discovered and classified, which makes political economy—independent of the passions and powerful interests which are wounded by its discussions—the most complicated, perhaps, and difficult of all the natural sciences. Whatever may be the operation and effects of natural laws and circumstances, which is what we are principally interested in knowing,—whether beneficial or otherwise,—it is almost impossible to discover them, because they have never been permitted fully and fairly to operate. In truth, their plain, straight-forward effects, by which alone we can discover them, have not been called into existence. Kings and lawmakers, thinking themselves wiser than Nature, have disdained to consult her decrees; and without inquiring into them, have checked, limited, controlled, and perverted them. To distinguish, therefore, between the effects of the natural laws regulating the progress of wealth, which are at no time easily discovered, requires now, when they are blended with the effects of legislative enactments, the most diligent and careful scrutiny. The former, like a deep and mighty river, flow, when uninterrupted, so smoothly onward, that we are not apt to notice their progress, and must set up marks, or cast something on their surface, to be sensible of their course. The latter, like the giant rocks which hem the river's fertilizing flow, inform us, terribly indeed, by poverty, misery, and social convulsions, of the interruptions to the course of nature; but whatever comes into collision with the two elements is destroyed by their conflict, and we cannot distinguish whether the cause of the mischief is the impetuosity of nature's stream, or the stubborn resistance of the legislative rocks.
To have established the fact that two classes of circumstances influence the production and distribution of wealth; and to have pointed out two different modes of treating them; proving the possibility of forming a science of the natural circumstance, and the impossibility of constructing a science of human laws, enables us to relieve political economy from some of the odium cast on it of late. It is not, as is generally supposed, a meddling, factious, ambitious science,—not a political science, prescribing regulations for society, or dictating duties to men; it only examines such regulations as have an influence on wealth, and it speaks no condemnation but what nature commands, leaving men to obey or not, as they list. It does not pretend to say what men will do, but it says the consequences of their actions, some of which it endeavours to trace, are inevitable. It aims at ascertaining the natural circumstances which regulate the production of wealth, and it records some of those instincts which lead man, like other animals, to seek happiness by means appropriate and peculiar to his condition. It presumes not to direct these instincts, but expressly declares that this is a matter for private judgment, and must be left to private men. It takes no notice of the arts of life; it does not pretend to explain the principles of mechanics, agriculture, or chemistry; it does not therefore point out, as is said by some authors, the means by which the industry of man may be rendered most productive. To find these means is the great object of all the arts of life, which all united, cannot, in fact, accomplish. No man can say how industry may be rendered most productive; for this is the continually varying result of the practical knowledge of all mankind. Rejecting all notice of the arts, political economy can never inform us how the hand may be made skilful. The science observes the close connexion between individual gain and the general welfare; but it does not pretend to direct the operations of the merchant, the trader, or the farmer, any more than those of the engineer; nor the labour of the ship-owner, any more than those of the shipwright and smith. The utmost extent of its utility in promoting opulence is, that statesmen may learn from it, if they, being among the most bigoted, ignorant, and presumptuous of mankind, are capable of learning any thing, how they may cease to check that production, which they, like the science itself, cannot possibly promote.
I take leave also to say distinctly, in opposition to the conduct of those who, of late, have carried political economy into Parliament, and endeavoured to substitute, as the basis of legislation, their imperfect knowledge, for the much more imperfect knowledge, I am ready to admit, of previous legislators, that this view of the science corresponds strictly with the writings and views of Dr. Smith. The Wealth of Nations may be considered as consisting of two parts: in the first, the author expounds, as far as he had discovered them, the natural laws which influence the prosperity of individuals and nations; and, in the other, he examines the effects of a great number of social regulations. He begins, by describing the effects of division of labour, which, he says, springs from a "natural propensity to truck or barter, peculiar to the human animal."*11 He insists, in various places, on the love of saving and accumulation; and on the general desire for happiness and comfort, as correcting the errors of the legislator. "Men," he lays it down as a principle, "naturally exert their industry, when they are secure of enjoying its fruits, to better their condition, and to acquire, not only the necessaries, but the conveniences and elegances, of life." In other parts of his work he examines the laws of primogeniture and entail, corporations, bounties, colonial regulations, the navigation acts, &c. &c.; and we find him censuring such laws and systems, as oppose the "natural course of opulence," but he never once takes on himself the functions of a legislator, and prescribes laws for the regulation of society. Having discovered in the division of labour, at least one natural source for CONTINUALLY increasing productive power, for he says, "all things would gradually have become cheaper,"—"with all those improvements of productive power to which the division of labour gives occasion," had it not been "for the appropriation of land, and the accumulation of stock,"*12 he inferred the existence of natural laws, regulating, prescribing, and controlling, in the most minute detail, the vast subject of the production and distribution of wealth; to which the principles adopted by the human legislator, except that they may cause infinite mischief, bear the same relation as the astronomical theories of Ptolemy and Descartes bear to the laws which regulate, also in minute detail, the motions of the planets. His book treats imperfectly. I readily admit, of an important part of the natural history of the animal man. It describes some of his social habitudes and instincts, and their beneficial effects, as other natural philosophers describe the gregarious habitudes and instincts of the bee and the beaver. He never thought of correcting or controlling these, but only of discovering and recording them. He laboured philosophically to show, that individual and national prosperity have their source in the natural wants, passions, and affections of individuals; and assuming that nature willed the happiness of our species, he endeavoured to prove, that in contriving the means, she did not wait for the doubtful help of Kings and Parliaments. Nay, more, he demonstrated, of every one of their laws and regulations which he examined, that they had impeded, and in some cases, ruined the prosperity, they benevolently or ambitiously pretended to promote.
Thus the object of political economy is to discover ALL the natural laws and circumstances, which influence and regulate the production of wealth. It has no other limit or scope than all these laws. Having discovered them, it examines by them the consequences of social regulations as far as they influence wealth; but warned by the experience of the injury already inflicted on our race by the regulations of the best and wisest lawgivers, it presumes not to dictate laws for the government of society. It looks on man as a part of the great system of the universe, and supposes that his conduct is influenced, regulated, and controlled or punished, in every minute particular, by permanent and invariable laws, in the same manner as the growth of plants, the chemical combinations of matter, and the motions of the heavenly bodies. This supposition may be erroneous, and, if true, it may not be possible for us to discover these laws; which is what I understand to be maintained by those, if they have any meaning in their words, who assert, that there can be no such science as political economy. A difference of opinion, teeming with more important and numerous consequences, including, in fact, every question which can ever be mooted concerning the organization of society, does not exist. I trust, however, that I have already satisfied the reader of the possible existence of the science; and I hope, therefore, he will feel no reluctance to follow me in my future endeavours to develope the natural laws regulating production and distribution; some of which are universally known, others are acknowledged and acted on, and of all, the existence is implied in every attempt to show, that the regulations of government, the granting of monopolies and bounties, the imposing heavy duties and prohibitions, interfere with and disturb the natural course of national prosperity.
It would be wrong, perhaps, were I to conclude the introduction without informing the reader, that the view here given of the foundations of the science differs very much from that of late adopted in this country. Here it is now generally called after foreign authors the science of values; a most limited, and, perhaps, even useless definition; confining the science, were the definition followed, to only a small part of it, and affording no explanation whatever of its most interesting phenomena. This view originated, I believe, in France; and it is not a little curious, that both the name and the arrangement given to the science by Dr. Smith, should have been superseded in his own country, and even among those persons who are proud to call him their master and the founder of the science, by the name and arrangement of his French commentators. It appears still more curious when it is recollected, that Dr. Smith has endeavoured, in one part of his great work, to combat the then existing systems of political economy;—showing, in fact, that the science which pretended, under this name, to add to the wealth of the people through the instrumentality of government, had and could have no existence.
Of the vast importance of political economy, as I have explained its object, I shall not at present say one word. If in the course of developing its truths, as far as they are known, I cannot make it appear of importance to the reader; if I do not bring before him circumstances in which he finds himself personally interested; if I cannot rouse in him a conviction, that it relates to facts with which his duty towards himself and his fellow men require him to be acquainted; I, for one, shall be content to believe, that the science is of less consequence to mankind than good novels, and not half so amusing.
Notes for this chapter
"Principles of Political Economy," page 1. This definition seems, in one respect, to be rather at variance with the tenor and spirit of Mr. M'Culloch's writings. In many parts of them he carefully distinguishes between natural circumstances and social regulations; but the definition confounds under the one term laws, those eternal and invariable laws which he elsewhere says are the same, both in republics and monarchies; and those varying enactments which forbid during one, what is enjoined in the subsequent session of Parliament.
Warden's United States of America.
Wealth of Nations, book i. chap. i.
Introduction to Population Returns. Vide Parl. Papers.
Humboldt's Travels in Equinoctial America.
For these extracts from Humboldt, the reader may see "Principles of Political Economy," by Mr. Malthus, p. 382, et sub.; or the original work, "Essai Politique sur la Nouvelle Espagne."
Wealth of Nations, book i.
Article, "Political Economy." Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Principes d'Economie Politique, p. 6.
M. Say, Traité d'Econ. Polit. 2 ed. tome l. p. 99.
Wealth of Nations, Book I. Chap. I. and II.
Wealth of Nations, Book I. Chap. VIII.
Part I, Chapter I
End of Notes
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