Elements of Political Economy
By James Mill
There are few things of which I have occasion to advertize the reader, before he enters upon the perusal of the following work.My object has been to compose a school-book of Political Economy, to detach the essential principles of the science from all extraneous topics, to state the propositions clearly and in their logical order, and to subjoin its demonstration to each. I am, myself, persuaded, that nothing more is necessary for understanding every part of the book, than to read it with attention; such attention as persons of either sex, of ordinary understanding, are capable of bestowing. [From the Preface]
First Pub. Date
London: Henry G. Bohn
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
We have seen that two classes of persons are concerned in production; Labourers, and Capitalists. Each of these classes must have its share of the commodities produced: or, which comes to the same thing, of the benefit derived from them. When the Land is one of the instruments of production, another party comes in for a portion; I mean, the Owners of the Land. And these three classes; the labourers, the capitalists, and the landlords; immediately share, that is, divide among them, the whole of the annual produce of the country.
When the parties are determined, among whom the whole of the produce is distributed, it remains to be ascertained, by what laws the proportions are established, according to which the division is made. We shall begin with the explanation of Rent, or the share received by Landlords; as it is the most simple, and will facilitate the explanation of the laws, upon which the shares, of the Labourers, and of the Capitalists, depend.
Section I. Rent
Land is of different degrees of fertility. There is a species of land, the elevated or stony parts, for example, of high mountains, loose sand, and certain marshes, which may be said to produce nothing. Between this and the most productive sort, there are lands of all the intermediate degrees of fertility.
Again; lands, of the highest fertility, do not yield the whole of what they are capable of yielding, with the same facility. A piece of land, for example, may be capable of yielding annually ten quarters of corn, or twice ten, or three times ten. It yields, however, the first ten, with a certain quantity of labour, the second ten, not without a greater, the third ten, not without a greater still, and so on; every additional ten requiring to its production a greater cost than the ten which preceded it. This is well known to be the law, according to which, by a greater expenditure of capital, a greater produce is obtained, from the same portion of land.
Till the whole of the best land is brought under cultivation, and till it has received the application of a certain quantity of capital, all the capital employed upon the land is employed with an equal return. At a certain point, however, no additional capital can be employed upon the same land, without a diminution of return. In any country, therefore, after a certain quantity of corn has been raised, no greater quantity can be raised, but at a greater cost. If such additional quantity is raised, the capital, employed upon the land, may be distinguished into two portions; one, producing a higher; another, a lower return.
When capital producing a lower return is applied to the land, it is applied in one of two ways. It is either applied to new land of the second degree of fertility, then for the first time brought under cultivation; or it is applied to land of the first degree of fertility, which has already received all the capital which can be applied without a diminution of return.
Whether capital shall be applied to land of the second degree of fertility, or in a second dose to the land of the first degree of fertility, will depend, in each instance, upon the nature and qualities of the two soils. If the same capital which will produce only eight quarters, when applied in a second dose to the best land, will produce nine quarters, when applied to land of the second degree of fertility, it will be applied to that land, and
The land of the different degrees of fertility; first, or highest sort; second, or next highest, and so on, may, for facility of reference, be denominated, No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, &c. In like manner, the different doses of capital, which may be applied to the same land, one after another, with less and less effect, may be denominated 1st dose, 2d dose, 3d dose, and so on.
So long as land produces nothing, it is not worth appropriating. So long as a part only of the best land is required for cultivation, all that is uncultivated yields nothing; that is, nothing which has any value. It naturally, therefore, remains unappropriated; and any man may have it, who undertakes to render it productive.
During this time, land, speaking correctly, yields no rent. There is a difference, no doubt, between the land which has been cultivated, and the land which is yet uncleared for cultivation. Rather than clear the fresh land, a man will pay an equivalent, annual, or otherwise, for the cost of clearing: and it is evident that he will pay no more. This, therefore, is not a payment for the power of the soil, but simply for the capital bestowed upon the soil. It is not rent; it is interest.
The time, however, arrives, as population, and the demand for food increase, when it is necessary either to have recourse to land of the second quality, or to apply a second dose of capital, less productively, upon land of the first quality.
If a man cultivates land of the second quality, upon which a certain quantity of capital will produce only eight quarters of corn, while the same quantity of capital upon land of the first quality will produce ten quarters; it will make no difference to him, whether he pay two quarters for leave to cultivate the first sort, or cultivate the second without any payment. He will therefore be content to pay two quarters for leave to cultivate the first sort; and that payment constitutes rent.
Let us suppose, again, that instead of cultivating land of the second quality, it is more advisable to apply a second dose of capital to land of the first quality; and that, while the first dose produces ten quarters, the second, of equal amount, will produce only eight quarters; it is equally implied in this, as in the former case, that it is impossible to employ any more capital with so great an effect as the ten supposed quarters, and that there are persons who are willing to apply it with so little a return as eight. But if there are persons who are willing to apply their capital on the land with so little a return as eight quarters, the owners of the land may make a bargain, by which they will obtain all that is produced above eight. The effect upon rent is thus the same in both cases.
It follows that rent increases in proportion as the productive power of the capital, successively bestowed upon the land, decreases. If population has arrived at another stage, when, all the land of second quality being cultivated, it is necessary to have recourse to land of third quality, yielding, instead of eight quarters, only six, it is evident, from the same process of reasoning that the land of second quality will now yield rent, namely, two quarters; and that land of first quality will yield an augmented rent, namely, two quarters more. The case will be exactly the same, if, instead of having recourse to land of less fertility, a second and a third dose of capital, with the same diminution of produce, are bestowed upon land of the first quality.
We may thus obtain a general expression for rent. In applying capital, either to lands of various degrees of fertility, or, in successive doses, to the same land, some portions of the capital so employed are attended with a greater produce, some with a less. That which yields the least, yields all that is necessary for reimbursing and rewarding the capitalist. The capitalist will receive no more than this remuneration for any portion of the capital which he employs, because the competition of others will prevent him. All that is yielded above this remuneration, the landlord will be able to appropriate. Rent, therefore, is the difference between the return made to the more productive portions, and that which is made to the least productive portion, of capital, employed upon the land.
Taking, for illustration, the three cases, of ten quarters, eight quarters, and six quarters, we perceive, that rent is the difference between six quarters and eight quarters for the portion of capital which yields only eight quarters; the difference between six quarters and ten quarters for the portion of capital which yields ten quarters; and if three doses of capital, one yielding ten, another eight, and another six quarters, are applied to the same portion of land, its rent will be four quarters for dose No. 1, and two quarters for dose No. 2, making together six quarters for the whole.
If these conclusions are well supported, the doctrine of rent is simple, and the consequences, as we shall see hereafter, are exceedingly important. There is but one objection, which it seems possible to make to them. It may be said, that, after land is appropriated, there is no portion of it which does not pay rent, no owner being disposed to give the use of it for nothing. This objection has, indeed, been raised; and it has been urged, that some rent is paid even for the most barren of the Scottish mountains.
If an objection is taken, it affects the conclusion, either to a material, or to an immaterial extent. Where the matter alleged in objection, even if admitted, would still leave the conclusion substantially, and to all practical purposes, true, the objection must be owing to one of two defects in the mind of the objector; either a confusion of ideas, which prevents him from seeing to how small a degree the matter which he alleges affects the doctrine which he denies; or a disposition to evade the admission of the doctrine, even though nothing solid can be found with which to oppose it.
That the matter alledged in this objection, even if allowed, would leave the conclusion, to all practical purposes, just where it was, can hardly fail to be acknowledged, as soon as the circumstances are disclosed. It cannot be so much as pretended that the rent paid for the barren mountains of Scotland is any thing but a trifle; an evanescent quantity, when we speak of any moderate extent. If it were 5
l. for a thousand acres, that is, about one penny per acre, it would bear so small a proportion to the cost of cultivation, which could not be less than several pounds per acre, that it would little affect the truth of the conclusion we have endeavoured to establish.
Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that the worst species of land under cultivation pays one penny per acre: rent, in that case, would be the difference between the produce resulting from different portions of capital, as explained above, with the correction required on account of the penny per acre paid as rent for the worst species of land under cultivation. Assuredly, if right in every other respect, we shall not be far wrong in our conclusions, by leaving this penny out of the question. A very slight advantage, in simplifying our language on the subject, would justify this omission.
But it is not true, that our conclusions stand in need of any such correction, even for metaphysical exactness. There is land, such as the sands of Arabia, which yields nothing. Land is found at all the intermediate stages from this to the highest fertility. Some land, though not absolutely incapable of yielding any thing for the accommodation of man, could not be made to yield what would maintain the labourers required for its cultivation. This land can never be cultivated. There is land, the annual produce of which would just maintain the labour necessary for its cultivation, and no more. This land is just capable of being cultivated, but obviously incapable of paying rent. The objection, therefore, is not only practically immaterial, it is metaphysically unsound.
It may be safely affirmed, that there is no country, of any considerable extent, in which there is not land incapable of yielding rent: that is, incapable of yielding to human labour more than would be necessary for the maintenance of that labour. That such, at least, is the case in this country, seems very unlikely to be disputed. There are parts of its mountains where nothing less hardy than heath, others where nothing but moss, can vegetate. When it is asserted that every part of the mountains of Scotland pays rent, the state of the facts is misunderstood. It is only true that there is no tenant of any portion of any man’s estate in the highlands of Scotland, who does not pay rent. The reason is, because even in the mountains of Scotland there are spots in the valleys, the produce of which is considerable. It does not follow, though hundreds of acres of mountain are added to these valleys, that therefore every part of the mountain yields rent; it is certain that many parts neither do nor can.
Even where the land is not absolutely barren, and where there is still something for the more hardy of the useful animals to pick up, it is not to be allowed that rent is the necessary consequence. It ought to be remembered, that these cattle are capital, and that the land must afford enough not only to make the return for that capital, but to pay for the tendance of the cattle, of which, in such situations, especially in winter, not a little is required. Unless the land yields all this, and something more, it cannot yield any rent.
In the greater part of this island, there is hardly a farm, of any considerable extent, which does not contain land, some of more, some of less fertility, varying from a high or moderate degree of fertility, down to land which yields not enough to afford any rent. Of course I do not request admission to this affirmation upon my authority; I rest it upon an appeal to the experience of those men who are best acquainted with the circumstances. If the state of the facts corresponds with the affirmation, it follows demonstratively, that the last portion of the land which is placed under cultivation yields no rent. In such farms as those we have now described, the tenant has bargained for a certain sum to the landlord. That, of course, was calculated, upon the produce of the land which yielded not only the proper return for the capital with which it was cultivated, but something more. As the motive of the tenant to cultivate is wholly constituted by the proper return to his capital, if there is any portion of the barren land, included in his farm, which will just yield the profit of stock, and no more; though it will not afford any thing for rent, it affords to him the adequate motive for cultivation. It can hardly be denied that, in the insensible degrees by which land declines from greater to less fertility, there will, in all considerable farms, be generally found a portion with this particular degree and no more.
The conclusion, however, may be established, by the clearest evidence, without regard to the question, whether all land pays or does not pay rent. On land which pays the highest rent, we have seen that capital, applied in successive doses, is not attended with equal results. The first dose yields more, possibly much more, than the return for the capital. The second also may yield more, and so on. The rent, if accurately calculated, will be equal to all that is rendered by those several doses, over and above the profits of stock. The cultivator, of course, applies all those several doses of capital on which he has agreed to pay rent. But immediately after them comes another dose, which though it yields nothing for rent, may fully yield the ordinary profits of stock. It is for the profits of stock, and them alone, that the farmer cultivates. As long, therefore, as capital applied to his farm will yield the ordinary profits of stock, he will apply capital, if he has it. I therefore conclude, with assurance, that in the natural state of things, in every agricultural country, one portion of the capital employed upon the land pays no rent; that rent, therefore, consists wholly, of that produce which is yielded by the more productive portions of capital, over and above a quantity equal to that which constitutes the return to the least productive portion, and which must be received, to afford his requisite profits, by the farmer.
Section II. Wages
Production is performed by labour. Labour, however, receives the raw material which it fashions, and the machinery by which it is aided, from capital, or more properly speaking, these articles are the capital.
The labourer is sometimes the owner of all the capital which his labour requires. The shoemaker or tailor has, sometimes, not only the tools with which he works, but also the leather or cloth upon which his labour is employed. In all cases of that description, the commodity is wholly the property of the man by whose labour it is prepared.
In the greater number of cases, however, especially in the more improved stages of society, the labourer is one person, the owner of the capital another. The labourer has neither raw material nor tools. These requisites are provided for him by the capitalist. For making this provision, the capitalist, of course, expects a reward. As the commodity, which was produced by the shoemaker, when the capital was his own, belonged wholly to himself, and constituted the whole of his reward, both as labourer and capitalist, so, in this case, the commodity belongs to the labourer and capitalist together. When prepared, the commodity, or the value of it, is to be shared between them. The reward to both must be derived from the commodity, and the reward of both makes up the whole of the commodity.
Instead, however, of waiting till the commodity is produced, and abiding all the delay and uncertainties of the market in which the value of it is realized, it has been found to suit much better the convenience of the labourers to receive their share in advance. The shape under which it has been found most convenient for all parties that they should receive it, is that of wages. When that share of the commodity, which belongs to the labourer, has been all received in the shape of wages, the commodity itself belongs to the capitalist, he having, in reality, bought the share or the labourer and paid for it in advance.
1. That the rate of wages depends on the proportion between Population, and Employment, in other words, Capital.
We come now to the question as to what determines the share of the labourer, or the proportion in which the commodity, or its worth, is divided between him and the capitalist. Whatever the share of the labourer, such is the rate of wages; and,
vice versâ whatever the rate of wages, such is the share of the commodity, or commodity’s worth, which the labourer receives.
It is very evident, that the share of the two parties is the subject of a bargain between them; and if there is a bargain, it is not difficult to see on what the terms of the bargain must depend. All bargains, when made in freedom, are determined by competition, and the terms alter according to the state of supply and demand.
Let us begin by supposing that there is a certain number of capitalists, with a certain quantity of food, raw material, and instruments, or machinery; that there is also a certain number of labourers; and that the proportion, in which the commodities produced are divided between them, has fixed itself at some particular point.
Let us next suppose, that the labourers have increased in number one half, without any increase in the quantity of capital. There is the same quantity of the requisites for the employment of labour; that is, of food, tools, and material, as there was before; but for every 100 labourers there are now 150. There will be 50 men, therefore, in danger of being left out of employment. To prevent their being left out of employment they have but one resource; they must endeavour to supplant those who have forestalled the employment; that is, they must offer to work for a smaller reward. Wages, therefore, decline.
If we suppose, on the other hand, that the quantity of capital has increased, while the number of labourers remains the same, the effect will be reversed. The capitalists have a greater quantity than before of the means of employment; of capital, in short; from which they wish to derive advantage. To derive this advantage they must have more labourers. To obtain them, they also have but one resource, to offer higher wages. But the masters by whom the labourers are now employed are in the same predicament, and will of course offer higher to induce them to remain. This competition is unavoidable, and the necessary effect of it is a rise of wages.
It thus appears, that, if population increases, without an increase of capital, wages fall; and that, if capital increases, without an increase of population, wages rise. It is evident, also, that if both increase, but one faster than the other, the effect will be the same as if the one had not increased at all, and the other had made an increase equal to the difference. Suppose, for example, that population has increased one-eighth, and capital one-eighth; this is the same thing as if they had stood still, with regard to the effect upon labour. But suppose that, in addition to the above-mentioned one-eighth, population had increased another eighth, the effect, in that case, upon wages, would be the same as if capital had not increased at all, and population had increased one-eighth.
Universally, then, we may affirm, that, other things remaining the same, if the ratio which capital and population bear to one another remains the same, wages will remain the same; if the ratio which capital bears to population increases, wages will rise; if the ratio which population bears to capital increases, wages will fall.
From this law, clearly understood, it is easy to trace the circumstances which, in any country, determine the condition of the great body of the people. If that condition is easy and comfortable, all that is necessary to keep it so, is, to make capital increase as fast as population; or, on the other hand, to prevent population from increasing faster than capital. If that condition is not easy and comfortable, it can only be made so, by one of two methods; either by quickening the rate at which capital increases, or retarding the rate at which population increases; augmenting, in short, the ratio which the means of employing the people bear to the number of people.
If it were the natural tendency of capital to increase faster than population, there would be no difficulty in preserving a prosperous condition of the people. If, on the other hand, it were the natural tendency of population to increase faster than capital, the difficulty would be very great. There would be a perpetual tendency in wages to fall. The progressive fall of wages would produce a greater and a greater degree of poverty among the people, attended with its inevitable consequences, misery and vice. As poverty, and its consequent misery increased, mortality would also increase. Of a numerous family born, a certain number only, from want of the means of well-being, would be reared. By whatever proportion the population tended to increase faster than capital, such a proportion of those who were born would die: the ratio of increase in capital and population would then remain the same, and the fall of wages would proceed no farther.
That population has a tendency to increase faster, than, in most places, capital has actually increased, is proved, incontestably, by the condition of the population in most parts of the globe. ln almost all countries, the condition of the great body of the people is poor and miserable. This would have been impossible, if capital had increased faster than population. In that case wages must have risen; and high wages would have placed the labourer above the miseries of want.
This general misery of mankind is a fact, which can be accounted for, upon one only of two suppositions: either that there is a natural tendency in population to increase faster than capital, or that capital has, by some means, been prevented from increasing so fast as it has a tendency to increase. This, therefore, is an inquiry of the highest importance.
2. Proof of the tendency of Population to increase rapidly.
The natural tendency of population to increase is to be collected from two sets of circumstances; the physiological constitution of the female of the human species; and the statements respecting the rate of increase in different countries.
The facts respecting the physiological constitution of the human female are well ascertained, and are indubitable grounds of conclusion. The statements respecting the rate of increase in different countries will be found to be, either suppositions with respect to matters of fact, upon the conformity of which suppositions to any real matters of fact we can have no assurance; or statements of facts, of such a nature, as prove nothing with regard to the points in dispute.
That the possible rate of increase in the numbers of mankind depends upon the constitution of the female, will not be disputed. The facts, which are fully ascertained in regard to the female of the human species, and the inferences which the sciences of physiology and comparative anatomy enable us to derive from the analogy of other animals, whose anatomy and physiology resemble those of the human species, afford the means of very satisfactory conclusions on this subject.
The females of those species of animals, whose period and mode of gestation are similar to those of the female of our own species, and which bring forth one at a birth, are capable, when placed in the most favourable circumstances, of a birth every year, from the time when the power of producing begins, till the time when it ends, omitting one year now and then, which, at the most, amounts to a very small proportion on the whole.
The suckling of the infant, in the case of the female of the human species, if continued more than three months, has a tendency to postpone the epoch of conception beyond the period of a year. This, it is to be observed, is the only physiological peculiarity which authorizes an inference of any difference in the frequency of the births in the case of the female of the human species, and in that of those other species to which we have referred.
To reason correctly, we should make an allowance for that peculiarity. Let such ample allowance be made as will include all interruptions; let us say that one birth in two years is natural to the female of the human species. In Europe, to which we may at present confine our observations, the period of child-bearing in women extends, from sixteen or seventeen, to forty-five, years of age. Let us make still more allowance, and say it extends only from twenty to forty years of age. In that period, at the allowance of two years to one birth, there is time for ten births, which may be regarded as not more than the number natural to the female of the human species.
Under favourable circumstances, the mortality among children is very small. Mortality among the children of very poor people is unavoidable, from want of the necessary means of health. Among the children of people in easy circumstances, who know and practise the rules for the preservation of health, the mortality is small; and there can be no doubt, that, under more skilful modes of managing the food, and clothing, the air, the exercise, and education of children, even this mortality would be greatly diminished.
We may conclude, therefore, that, in the most favourable circumstances, ten births are the measure of fecundity in the female of the human species; and that of the children born a small proportion would die before the age of maturity. For occasional instances of barrenness, and for this small degree of mortality, let us make much more than the necessary allowance, a deduction of one-half; and say, That every human pair, united at an early age, commanding a full supply of things necessary for physical welfare, exempt from the necessity of oppressive labour, and sufficiently skilled to make the best use of their circumstances for preventing disease and mortality among themselves and their children, would, one with another, rear five children. If this is the case, it is needless to exhibit an accurate calculation, to show that population would double itself in some moderate portion of years. It is evident, at once, that it would double itself in a small number of years.
To meet a conclusion so well established as this, recourse has been had to certain tables, respecting population, and respecting births and deaths, in various countries. The reasoning from these tables evades the point in dispute. I know no tables which exhibit any thing, even if we give them, what they never deserve, credit for exactness, except the mere fact with regard to the state of increase. They show, or pretend to show, whether a certain population is increasing or not increasing; and, if increasing, at what rate. But, if it appeared, from such tables, that the population of every country in the world were stationary, no man, capable of reasoning, would infer, that the human race is incapable of increasing. Every body knows the fact, that in the greater number of countries, the population is stationary, or nearly so. But what does this prove, so long as we are not informed, by what causes it is prevented from increasing? We know well, that there are two causes, by which it may be prevented from increasing, how great soever its natural tendency to increase. The one is poverty; under which, let the number born be what it may, all but a certain number undergo a premature destruction. The other is prudence; by which either marriages are sparingly contracted, or care is taken that children, beyond a certain number, shall not be the fruit. It is useless to inform us, that there is little or no increase of population in certain countries, if we receive not, at the same time, accurate information of the degree in which poverty, or prudence, or other causes, operate to prevent it.
That population, therefore, has such a tendency to increase as would enable it to double itself in a small number of years, is a proposition resting on the strongest evidence, which nothing worth the name of evidence has been brought to controvert.
3. Proof that capital has a less tendency than Population to increase rapidly.
We come next to consider the tendency which capital may have to increase. If that should increase as fast as population, along with every labourer produced, the means of employment and subsistence would also be produced; and no degradation of the great body of the people would be the consequence.
Though it is found, where property is secure, that there is a considerable disposition in mankind to save; sufficient, where vast consumption is not made by the government, and where the difficulties of production are not very great, to make capital progressive; this disposition is still so weak, in almost all the situations in which human beings have ever been placed, as to make the increase of capital slow.
The annual produce is always distributed in such a manner, that, either the great body of the people are liberally provided with what is necessary for subsistence and enjoyment, when of course a smaller portion goes to swell the incomes of the rich; or, the great body of the people are reduced to mere necessaries, when there is naturally a class of people whose incomes are large. To one or other of these two cases the state of every community approximates.
1. In the case, in which there is a class reduced to necessaries, and a class of rich, it is evident that the first have not the means of saving. A class of rich men, in the middle of a class of poor, are not apt to save. The possession of a large fortune generally whets the appetite for immediate enjoyment. And the man who is already in possession of a fortune, yielding him all the enjoyments which fortune can command, has little inducement to save. In such a state of the social order, any rapid increase of capital is opposed by causes which are in general irresistible.
2. We are next to consider the state of the social order, in which a large share of the annual produce is distributed among the great body of the people. In that situation, neither the class which labours, nor that which is maintained without labouring, has any forcible motives to save.
When a man possesses, what we are now supposing possessed by the great body of the people, food, clothing, lodging, and all other things sufficient not only for comfortable, but pleasurable existence, he possesses the means of all the substantial enjoyments of human life. The rest is in a great measure fancy. There are two sets of men; one, in whom the reasoning power is strong, and who are able to resist a present pleasure for a greater one hereafter; another, in whom it is weak, and who can seldom resist the charm of immediate enjoyment. Of course, it is not in the latter class that the motive to save can be expected to prevail. The class, on the other hand, in whom reason is sufficiently strong to form a due estimate of pleasures, cannot fail to perceive that those which they can obtain by adding penny to penny, after all the rational desires are satisfied, are not equal to the pleasures which, in the circumstances we have supposed, they must relinquish to obtain them. Both the higher and the lower principles of our nature are in such circumstances opposed to accumulation. So far, as to the strength of the motive which, in the supposed circumstances, can operate upon the labouring class.
What remains of the annual produce, after the share of the labouring class is deducted, is either distributed in large portions among a small number of very rich men, or among a large number of men of moderate fortunes.
We have already examined the state of the motives to accumulate when fortunes are large; and have found that it never can be such as to produce very considerable effects. We have now to examine the state of the motives to accumulate, in a society, in which there is a great number of moderate fortunes, without the prevalence of large. In the way of physical enjoyment, these fortunes yield every thing which the largest fortunes can bestow. There are only two motives, therefore, which, in this situation, can counteract the strong tendency to immediate enjoyment: either the desire of a command over the sentiments of mankind; or the wish to make a provision for children.
The strength of the motive to command by riches the favourable sentiments of mankind will depend upon the effect they are calculated to produce. That is different, in different states of society. In the state of society, supposed in the present case, men are distributed into two classes: men of easy but moderate fortunes; and a well paid body of labourers and artisans.
The first class; men with fortunes equal to all the purposes not only of independence, and of physical enjoyment, but of taste and elegance, and who at the same time constitute the governing portion of society, giving the tone to its sentiments and amusements; are not in the situation of men whose imaginations are apt to be dazzled by the glare of superior riches. The persons belonging to the second, or labouring class, are cringing and servile, where the frown of the rich man is terrible, and his little favours important: but when they are placed in circumstances which impart the feeling of independence, and give them opportunity for the cultivation of their minds, they are little affected by the signs of wealth. This, therefore, is a state of society in which the possession of great riches gives little command over the sentiments of others, and cannot constitute a powerful motive for saving.
With respect to the provision for children, if a man feels no great desire to make a larger than the ordinary moderate fortune for himself, he feels as little desire at the least to make it for his children. The provision, which he desires to make for them, can only, therefore, be such as to place them in the same situation which is held by himself. He will be anxious to afford to them the same means for beginning life advantageously, as were afforded, or would have been desirable, to himself. To this extent the desire of making a provision for children might be expected to be very general, and it would ensure a certain moderate increase of capital. This may therefore be considered, as, perhaps, the most favourable state of society for accumulation; with the exception of those cases in which colonists, with all the knowledge and power of civilized life, are transported into a country uninhabited, or nearly so, and have the power of cultivating without limit the most productive species of land. These are coincidences so extraordinary, and so rare, that, in tracing the general laws of human society, it is only necessary to show that they are not forgotten.
These considerations seem to prove that more than moderate effects can rarely flow from the motives to accumulation. But the proof, that population has a tendency to increase faster than capital, does not depend upon this foundation, strong as it is. The tendency of population to increase, whatever it may be, is at any rate an equable tendency. At what rate soever it has increased at any one time, it may be expected to increase at an equal rate, if placed in equally favourable circumstances, at any other time. The case with capital is the reverse.
Whether, after land of superior quality has been exhausted, capital is applied to new land of inferior quality, or in successive doses with diminished returns upon the same land, the produce of it is continually diminishing in proportion to its increase. If the return to capital is, however, continually decreasing, the annual fund, from which savings are made, is continually diminishing. The difficulty of making savings is thus continually augmented, and at last they must totally cease.
It thus sufficiently appears, that there is a tendency in population to increase faster than capital. If this be established, it is of no consequence to the present purpose to inquire about the rapidity of the increase. How slow soever the increase of population, provided that of capital is still slower, wages will be reduced so low that a portion of the population will regularly die of want. Neither can this dreadful consequence be averted otherwise than by the use of means to prevent the increase of capital from falling short of that of population.
4. That forcible means employed to make capital increase faster than its natural tendency would not produce desirable effects.
There are two modes in which artificial means may be employed to make population and capital keep pace together: expedients may be sought, either to restrain the tendency of population to increase; or to accelerate beyond its natural pace the increase of capital.
The principal means, by which legislatures have it in their power to alter the course of human actions, is by rewards and punishments. Neither is very applicable to the purpose of counteracting the tendency in the human species to multiply. Suppose a law were proposed for annexing penalties to the father and mother of a child, the circumstances of whom were inadequate to its maintenance; it would not be easy to find a mode of punishing, which would be equal to the effect, without producing almost as much uneasiness in society as that which it would propose to remedy: neither would it be very possible to ascertain and define the state of circumstances which is, and that which is not, adequate to the maintenance of one, or two, or any other number of children. To apply rewards to the case of not having any children, in such a manner as to operate usefully upon the principle of population, would be still more difficult.
Legislation, in cases ill adapted to its direct, can sometimes produce considerable effects by its indirect operation; as when a desire, which gratifies itself in a hurtful course of action, and cannot easily be counteracted by reward and punishment, is drawn to gratify itself in a less hurtful or an innocent direction. If legislatures have taken measures, as they very often have done, sometimes by direct, more frequently by indirect means, to stimulate the principle of population, such mischievous legislation may be corrected.
The powerful agency of the popular sanction might in this, as in other cases, be turned to great account. If an intense degree of disapprobation were directed upon the men, who, by their folly, involved themselves, through a great family, in poverty and dependence; of approbation upon those who, by their self command, preserved themselves from this misery and degradation, much of this folly would unquestionably be prevented.
The result to be aimed at is, to secure to the great body of the people all the happiness which is capable of being derived from the matrimonial union, without the evils which a too rapid increase of their numbers involves. The progress of legislation, the improvement of the education of the people, and the decay of superstition, will, in time, it may be hoped, accomplish the difficult task of reconciling these important objects.
Such are the modes in which legislation can weaken the tendency in population to increase. It remains to inquire by what means it can strengthen the tendency in capital to increase. These are, also, direct and indirect. As the legislature, if skilful, has great power over the tastes of the community, it may contribute to render frugality fashionable, and expense disgraceful. The legislature may also produce that distribution of property which experience shows to be the most favourable to saving. Sumptuary laws have been adopted in several countries; but it is not easy to contrive sumptuary laws, the effect of which would be very considerable, without a minute and vexatious interference with the ordinary business of life.
There is certainly one course by which the legislature might produce considerable effects upon the accumulation of capital; because it might lay hold of any portion which it pleased of the net produce of the year, and convert it into capital. We have only, therefore, to inquire, in what manner this could be performed, and what effects it would produce.
The mode of taking whatever portion it might find expedient, is obvious and simple. An income tax, of the proper amount, would effectually answer the purpose.
The legislature might employ the capital, thus forcibly created, in one or other of two ways: it might lend it to be employed by others: or it might retain the employment in its own hands.
The simplest mode, perhaps, would be, to lend it to those manufacturers and capitalists who might apply for it, and could give security for the repayment. The interest of what was thus laid out in one year might be employed as capital the next. Every annual portion would thus make compound interest, and, so long as interest remained pretty high, would double itself in a small number of years. If wages appeared likely to fall, a higher income tax would be required. If wages rose higher than seemed to be necessary for the most desirable condition of the labourer, the income tax might be reduced.
Without waiting to inquire, whether a machinery, capable of producing these effects, be or be not practicable, we may proceed to another consideration, which seems calculated to decide the merits of the scheme.
According to the progress above supposed, the increase of population would be rapid. The progress would also be rapid, in the application of capital to land of a worse and worse quality, or in doses attended with a less and less return.
In proportion as capital is attended with less and less of annual return, the owners of capital have less and less income. If the income from capital be continually diminished, in process of time none but the owners of large masses of capital will derive from it the means of existence. This is the extreme state of things to which the operation of the scheme, supposing it not impracticable, certainly tends.
It remains to inquire how far these effects are be considered as good.
Let us suppose that the command of the labourer over the articles of his consumption remains unaltered. Those who do not subsist by the wages of labour, live either upon the produce of stock, or upon the rent of land. In the case supposed, the tendency is, to impoverish those who live upon the produce of stock; but to increase the rent of land. With the exception of the owners of land, all the rest of the community would be either labourers, or capitalists almost equally poor. As often as land were offered to sale, a great amount of capital would of course be given for it; nobody, therefore, would be able to buy more than a very limited portion.
In this state of things, sales of land would either be frequent, or they would be rare. It is necessary to consider what would be the effects in either case.
The effects which would arise in the case in which the sales of land would be rare, are simple. The owners of land would be a comparatively small number of rich people, in the midst of a population, all equally, and hopelessly, poor. That there is scarcely any state of society less conducive to human happiness, we need not here spend any time to prove.
If sales went on, it being the nature of land, as of other property, to change hands continually, the whole land would be divided, at last, into very small portions; covered by a dense population, no portion of whom would be in circumstances much better than those of the labourer. Is this, in itself, a desirable state of things? Is it either followed or preceded by a desirable state of things?
When any of those accidents occur by which the annual produce is for one year, or a few years, reduced considerably below the usual standard, in a country in which a considerable proportion of the people have better incomes than those who live upon wages, considerable savings may be made from their expenditure, to mitigate the effects of the deficiency. In a country in which all were reduced to the state of wages, any considerable diminution of the usual supply would diffuse general, irremediable calamity.
All the blessings, which flow from that grand and distinguishing attribute of our nature, its progressiveness, the power of advancing continually from one degree of knowledge, one degree of command over the means of happiness, to another, seem, in a great measure, to depend upon the existence of a class of men who have their time at their command; that is, who are rich enough to be freed from all solicitude with respect to the means of living in a certain state of enjoyment. It is by this class of men that knowledge is cultivated and enlarged; it is also by this class that it is diffused; it is this class of men whose children receive the best education, and are prepared for all the higher and more delicate functions of society, as legislators, judges, administrators, teachers, inventors in all the arts, and superintendents in all the more important works, by which the dominion of the human species is extended over the powers of nature.
It is also, in a peculiar manner, the business of those whose object it is to ascertain the means of raising human happiness to its greatest height, to consider, what is that class of men by whom the greatest happiness is enjoyed. It will not probably be disputed, that they who are raised above solicitude for the means of subsistence and respectability, without being exposed to the vices and follies of great riches, the men of middling fortunes, in short, the men to whom society is generally indebted for its greatest improvements, are the men, who, having their time at their own disposal, freed from the necessity of manual labour, subject to no man’s authority, and engaged in the most delightful occupations, obtain, as a class, the greatest sum of human enjoyment. For the happiness, therefore, as well as the ornament of our nature, it is peculiarly desirable that a class of this description should form as large a proportion of each community as possible. For this purpose it is absolutely necessary that population should not, by a forced accumulation of capital, be made to go on, till the return to capital from the land is very small. To enable a considerable portion of the community to enjoy the advantages of leisure, the return to capital must evidently be large. There is a certain density of population which is convenient, both for social intercourse, and for that combination of powers by which the produce of labour is increased. When these advantages, however, are attained, there seems little reason to wish that population should proceed any further. If it does proceed further, instead of increasing the net revenue derived from the land and labour of the country, or that portion of the annual produce which exceeds what is necessary for replacing the capital consumed, and maintaining the labourers, it lessens that important fund, on the largeness of which the happiness of society to a great degree depends.
If we may, thus, infer, that human happiness cannot be secured by taking forcible methods to make capital increase as fast as population; and if, on the other hand, it is certain, that where births take place, more numerous than are required to uphold a population corresponding to the state of capital, human happiness is impaired, it is immediately seen, that the grand practical problem is, To find the means of limiting the number of births. It has also appeared, that, beyond a certain state of density in the population, such as to afford in perfection the benefits of social intercourse, and of combined labour, it is not desirable that population should increase. The precise problem, therefore, is, to find the means of limiting births to that number which is necessary to keep up the population, without increasing it. Were that accomplished, while the return to capital from the land was yet high, the reward of the labourer would be ample, and a large surplus would still remain. If the natural laws of distribution were allowed to operate freely, the greater part of this net produce would find its way, in moderate portions, into the hands of a numerous class of persons, exempt from the necessity of labour, and placed in the most favourable circumstances both for the enjoyment of happiness, and for the highest intellectual and moral attainments.
We have yet to mention, that government, instead of lending, may itself employ the capital which it forcibly creates. It is evident, however, that whether government employs this capital, or lends it to be employed by others, all the effects, which we have traced as arising necessarily from its increase, will be the same. The best mode, perhaps, which could be invented for employing, by government itself, a portion of the annual produce, forcibly taken from the owners, to accelerate the growth of capital, would be that which has been so earnestly pressed upon the public attention by Mr. Owen, of New Lanark. Mr. Owen proposes, that the portion of the annual produce thus converted into capital should be employed by government in making certain establishments; each of a mixed nature, partly for agricultural, partly for manufacturing industry; in erecting the houses, in providing the instruments or machinery, the previous subsistence, and raw materials which might be required. In these establishments, Mr. Owen is of opinion that labour might be employed under great advantages, and with unexampled means of felicity to the individuals employed. Mr. Owen, however, must intend one of two things;—either that population should go on, or that it should stop. If it is to go on, capital of course holding pace with it, all the evils which would, as above, result from the forcible increase of capital, when lent by government, would result from its forcible increase, when employed in those establishments. If Mr. Owen means that population should not go on, and if expedients can be employed to limit sufficiently the number of births, there is no occasion for these establishments, still less for the forcible and painful abduction of a part of their income from the people. The limitation of the number of births, by raising wages, will accomplish every thing which we desire, without trouble and without interference. The limitation of the numbers, if that object can be attained, may be carried so far as not only to raise the condition of the labourer to any state of comfort and enjoyment which may be desired, but to prevent entirely the accumulation of capital.
Section III. Profits
When it is established, that the whole of the annual produce is distributed as rent, wages of labour, and profits of stock; and when we have ascertained what regulates the portion which goes to rent, and what the portion which goes to wages, the question is also determined with regard to profits of stock; for it is evident that the portion which remains is profits.
From preceding expositions, it appears, that rent is something altogether extraneous to what may be considered as the return to the productive operations of capital and labour. As soon as it is necessary to apply capital to land of an inferior quality, or upon the same land to apply a further dose of capital with inferior return, all that is yielded, more than this inferior return, is as if it did not exist, with respect to the capitalist and labourer. Whatever is yielded beyond this lowest return, either on particular spots of ground, or to particular portions of capital, might be annihilated, the moment it is produced, without affecting the portion which goes to either of those two classes. As soon as a new portion of capital is employed with inferior return, the case would be the same, if the productive powers of all the capital employed upon the land were reduced to this inferior return, and a quantity of produce, equal to the additional return, which used to be made, to the former portions of capital, were, by miracle, rained down from heaven upon the possessors of the land which yielded it.
The portion, which goes, in the shape of rent, to the landlord, and which is an excess beyond the return made to the whole of the capital and labour employed upon the land, is, in fact, the result of an accident. Suppose that all the land cultivated in the country were of one uniform quality, and yielded the same return to every portion of the capital employed upon it, with the exception of one acre. That acre, we shall suppose, yields six times as much as any other acre. What would be produced upon all the other acres, might justly be regarded as the return made to the labour and capital employed upon the land; and the whole of that return. The additional five-sixths, accruing from the singular acre, would not be considered as return made to labour and capital; it would be considered as the accidental product of a particular virtue in that particular spot. But what is true of this single acre is equally true of any number of acres, as soon as that event occurs which diminishes the return to any portion of capital, and induces all the owners of capital to limit their profits to the measure of that diminished return.
If there is any portion of capital, employed upon the land, which pays no rent, it is evident that the wages and profits, in that case, must regulate the wages and profits in other cases.
It thus fully appears, that nothing can be considered as the produce of the joint operations of capital and labour upon the land, beyond the return to that portion of capital which is applied without paying any rent, which return measures the quantity of the produce allowed to remain, after the rent is deducted, as the return to all the other portions of labour and capital employed upon the land. The whole of that therefore, which can be considered as the real product of labour and capital, remains to be shared between the labourer and capitalist, after the rent is withdrawn. It follows that, in considering what regulates wages and profits, rent may be left altogether out of the question. Rent is the effect, and not the cause, of the diminished produce which the capitalists and labourers have to divide between them.
When any thing is to be divided wholly between two parties, that which regulates the share of one, regulates also, it is very evident, the share of the other; for whatever is withheld from the one, the other receives; whatever, therefore, increases the share of the one diminishes that of the other, and
vice versâ. We might, therefore, with equal propriety, it should seem, affirm that wages determine profits, or that profits determine wages; and, in framing our language, assume whichever we pleased, as the regulator or standard.
As we have seen, however, that the regulation of the shares between the capitalist and labourer depends upon the relative abundance of population and capital, and that population, as compared with capital, has a tendency to superabound, the active principle of change is on the side of population, and constitutes a reason for considering population, and consequently wages, as the regulator.
As, therefore, the profits of stock depend upon the share, which is received by its owners, of the joint produce of labour and stock; profits of stock depend upon wages; rise as wages fall, and fall as wages rise.
In speaking of the produce which is shared between the capitalist and labourer, it is proper to explain, that I always mean such net produce as remains after replacing the capital which has been consumed. As, in stating the constituents of price, we say that a commodity must fetch in the market a value equal to three things: 1st, to the capital which has been consumed in its production; 2dly, to the ordinary profits of stock upon the capital employed; and, 3dly, to the wages of the labour; so in speaking of the portions into which, as the produce to be shared, the commodity or commodity’s worth is to be considered as dividing itself, we must set apart the portion, always a determinate amount, which is for the capital consumed, and which is distinct both from profits and from wages. Thus, if in the production of a commodity, which sells for 100
l., capital to the amount of 50
l. has been consumed, 50
l. is that which is to be divided between the capitalist and labourer, as profits to the one, and wages to the other.
The terms alteration of wages, alteration of profits, are susceptible of various meanings, to which it is necessary to advert.
1. If, by alteration, is meant, a change in the proportions, it is evident that an alteration of one share implies an alteration of the other; and the proposition that profits depend upon wages, admits of no qualification.
2. If a change in the quantity of commodities is meant, it will not be true, in that sense, that profits so depend upon wages, as to fall when wages rise, and rise when wages fall; for both may fall, and both may rise, together. And this is a proposition which no political economist has called in question. If the powers of production are either increased or diminished, there will, in the one case, be more, in the other less, to divide. The proportions remaining the same, both wages and profits will, in the one case, be raised, in the other, depressed.
The terms may have another meaning still. When a change in wages and profits is spoken of, it may be the value of what is received under these denominations, which is meant to be indicated.
To perceive what may, and what may not, be truly predicated or spoken of the terms in this sense, it is necessary to advert to a double meaning of the word value.
1. It is used in the sense of value in exchange; as when we say, that the value of a hat is double that of a handkerchief, if one hat will exchange for two handkerchiefs.
2. Mr. Ricardo, in his exposition of the principles of political economy, used the word value in a sense referable, not to purchasing power, but to cost of production. Thus, if two days’ labour went to the production of one commodity, and two to the production of another commodity, Mr. Ricardo would say, the two commodities were of equal value. In like manner, if two days’ labour produced at one time a certain amount of commodities, and at another time, by an improvement in the productive powers of that labour, a greater amount of commodities, Mr. Ricardo would say that the value of the smaller quantity, and the value of the greater quantity, were the same.
If we use the term value in the sense of exchangeable value, or purchasing power; that is, command over a greater or less quantity of commodities; the case is the same with that which we have already considered, wherein rise and fall of wages or profits were taken to mean, a greater or less amount of commodities. When we say that the labourer receives a greater quantity of commodities, and when we say that he receives a greater exchangeable value, we denote by the two expressions, one and the same thing. In this sense, therefore, nobody has ever maintained that profits necessarily rise when wages fall, and fall when wages rise: because it was always easy to see, that, by an alteration in productive power, both may rise or fall together, and also that one may rise or fall, and the other remain stationary.
We come next to consider what language may be correctly used, in the sense which Mr. Ricardo annexed to the word value.
It will immediately be seen that, in this sense, the case corresponds exactly with the first of those which I have already considered, that of proportions. If what is produced, by an invariable quantity of labour, continues to be divided in the same proportion, say one half to the capitalist, and one half to the labourers, that half may be a greater or a smaller quantity of commodities, but it will always be the produce of the same quantity of labour; and, in Mr. Ricardo’s sense, always, for that reason, of the same value. In this sense of the word value, therefore, it is strictly and undeniably true, that profits depend upon wages so as to rise when wages fall, and fall when wages rise.
In the common mode of expressing profits, the reference that is made is not to the produced commodity, but to the capital employed in producing it; including the wages, which it is necessary to advance, and from which the owner expects of course to derive the same advantage as from his other advances. Profits are expressed not in aliquot parts of the produce, but of this capital. It is not so much per cent of the produce that a capitalist is said to receive, but so much per cent upon his capital. Now, the capital may be either of more, or of less value than the produce, according to the proportion in which it is capital of the fixed, or the circulating kind. Suppose a capital of 200
l. of which 50
l. is consumed in the production of a commodity, which sells for 120
l.; we have first to deduct 50
l. for the capital consumed; there then remains 70
l. to be divided between the capitalist and the labourers; and if we suppose that 50
l. has been paid for wages, in other words, that such is the share of the labourers, the capitalist receives 10 per cent upon his capital; including here, in the term capital, what he has advanced as wages; but he receives 28½ per cent of the produce, or of that which is divided after replacing the capital consumed. It is only, however, the language which here is different; the thing expressed is precisely the same; and whether the capitalist says he receives 10 per cent upon his capital, or 28½ per cent of the produce, he means in both cases the same amount, viz. 20
There are, therefore, in reality, but two cases. The one, that in which we speak of proportions; the other, that in which we speak of quantity of commodities. In the one case, it is correct to say that profits depend literally and strictly upon wages. In the other case, although it is still correct to say that profits depend upon wages; for the greater the share that goes to the labourer, the less the share that remains for the capitalist; yet to make the language of quantity correspond in meaning with the language of proportions, the form of expression requires to be modified.
There is a great convenience in adapting our language to the rate upon the capital, rather than the shares of the produce; because the rate upon the capital is the same in all the varieties of produce, but the share of the capitalist is different, according to all the different degrees in which capital contributes to the intended result.
This, however it is evident, makes no difference in the truth of the doctrine. If in one case capital contributes twice as much, in another three times as much, as it does in a third case, whatever share the capitalist in the third case receives, the capitalist in the first case will receive twice as great a share, and the capitalist in the second case will receive three times as great; if the share of the capitalist in the third case is reduced one third by rise of wages, the share of each of the other two will also be reduced one third; and whatever, in percentage on his capital, the profits of the one are reduced, the same in that percentage will the profits of the others he reduced.
As this percentage however is generally spoken in the sense of exchangeable value, it may happen, as we have seen above, that the shares may be altered without an alteration of this percentage. If, at the same time that the shares of the capitalists are reduced, by a rise of wages, there should happen an increase of the productive powers of labour and capital, the reduced shares might consist of as great a quantity of commodities as the previous shares, and of course the exchangeable value, and percentage on the capital, expressed in the language of exchangeable value, would remain the same.
If it should be deemed a better mode of expounding the subject, not to regard, as a separate portion, what is required to replace the capital consumed, but to consider it as forming part of the share of the capitalist; the same propositions will still be true. The whole which is to be divided will, in this case, be different from the former whole, and the shares will not be the same proportion of that whole; but it will still be true that by how much the proportion of the labourers is increased, by so much that of the capitalist will be reduced; and that when the capitalist has set apart that portion of his share which is required to replace his capital, his profits, or the advantage upon the use of his capital, will be affected, precisely as they are said to be according to the former mode of exposition.
If we speak of what accrues to the two parties in the language of quantity, not of proportion, it is equally clear, in this mode of exposition as in the former, that the quantity of commodities is not necessarily altered when the shares are altered; that the shares may alter when there is no alteration in the quantity of produce to be shared; and, on the other hand, that the quantity of produce to be shared may alter, either up or down, while the shares are the same. It is, at the same time, true, that there can be no alteration in the quantity of produce which the one receives, but by an alteration in the quantity which the other receives; unless in that one case, in which the productive powers of the instruments of production have undergone alteration. The following, therefore, is a connected chain of true propositions.
1. That which accrues to the parties concerned in the production of a commodity or commodities, the labourers, and capitalist, as the return for their cooperation, is a share of the produce to each.
2. The share of the one cannot be increased, without a corresponding diminution of the share of the other.
3. These shares remaining the same, the quantity of produce included in them may be either greater or less, according as the productive operations have been followed with a greater or a smaller produce.
4. According as you apply the term value, to the effect, the quantity of produce; or to the cause, the quantity of labour employed; it will be true, or it will not be true, that the value of what is received by the capitalist the labourer and reciprocates along with their shares.
It is equally easy, in this mode of expression as in the former, to translate the language of shares into that of percentage. The amount of the produce, or its exchangeable value, may be greater, or may be less, than the amount of capital employed. If the capital is all circulating capital, and consumed in the process of production, and if, as in ordinary language, we suppose wages to be included, the produce is greater than the capital, by the amount of the profits. Let us suppose that the capital is 500
l., and profits 10 per cent; the value of the produce is 550
l.; let us suppose that of this the capitalist pays 275
l. in wages; in other words, that the labourers’ share is 50 per cent; it follows, that the share of the capitalist is 50 per cent also; but 50 per cent of 550
l. is a greater amount than 50 per cent of his capital, which is only 500
l. This is equal to 55 per cent upon his capital. And when he has deducted from his share, what is necessary to replace the portion of his capital, otherwise consumed than in the payment of wages, viz. 500
l. = 225
l., he has 50
l. remaining, or 10 per cent upon his capital.
Let us next take the case in which the capital 500
l., as before, is all fixed capital, none of it, excepting what is advanced as wages, consumed; that this is small, viz. 25
l.; and that the value of the commodity is 75
l.; of this, 25
l., or 1/3 is the share of the labourer; 50
l., or 2/3, is the share of the capitalist; but this, though 66½ per cent upon the product, is but 10 per cent upon the capital.
There is a mode of viewing the gross return to the capitalist, which has a tendency to simplify our language, and, so far, has a great advantage to recommend it. The case of fixed and of circulating capital may be treated as the same, by merely considering the fixed capital as a product, which is regularly consumed and replaced, by every course of productive operations. The capital, not consumed, may be always taken, as an additional commodity, the result of the productive process.
According to this supposition, the share of the capitalist is always equal to the whole of his capital, together with its profits.
We may consider capital in two senses; first, as including; next, as excluding, wages.
In the first case, let us suppose a capital, of 500
l., of which 100
l. is paid in wages, to produce a commodity worth 550
l. The share of the capitalist is 450
l. or somewhat more than four-fifths, while that of the labourers is so much less than one-fifth and the profit of stock, after replacing capital, is 10 per cent.
Let us suppose, in the second case, a capital or 400
l., but exclusive of wages. This capital is employed, and the necessary labourers maintain themselves without wages, and take, as their remuneration, their share of the commodity when produced. The commodity is worth 550
l.; and of that 100
l. falls to the share of the labourers. The rate of profits is the same as before, and the proportions are the same as before, only with this correction, that in the former case the labourers sustained a discount of 10 per cent. upon their share on account of anticipated payment. The real shares in both cases are four-fifths to the capitalist, and one-fifth to the workmen.
It is sufficiently evident that, so long as the capital and the labour remain the same, and the shares remain the same, so long, in Mr. Ricardo’s sense of the word value, will the same value accrue to each, whether the quantity of produce they receive be greater or less.
That the capital, and the labour, should remain the same, is as necessary a condition, as that the shares should remain the same; for if either is increased or diminished, the value of the product, in Mr. Ricardo’s sense of the word value, is also increased or diminished.
The quantity of produce being supposed the same, we may illustrate the subject by the following cases.
1. Let us suppose that both capital and labour are diminished, and in equal proportions. This is precisely the same with the case in which the productive powers of labour and capital are increased; as it comes to the same thing, whether you have the same produce from a less cost of production, or a greater produce from the same cost of production. This case, therefore, has been already considered.
2. Let us suppose, that the capital is diminished, the labour not. This also is a case of diminished cost of production. If, for the produce of 550 yards of cloth, which was at first effected by a capital of 400 yards and a portion of labour which was paid by a fifth of the produce, only a capital of 200 yards should be required, but the same quantity of immediate labour; that the labourers may have the same share as before, it is necessary that they should have a greater aliquot part. Suppose, before that increase of productive power which is supposed in this case, when a capital of 400 yards was required for a produce of 550, and when the wages of the quantity of labour applied was 110 yards, that another commodity had been produced by the same quantity or labour, but by a capital of 200 yards. The value of this commodity would have been 330 yards, equal to the capital with its profits and the wages. Of this the labourers would have received 110 yards, or one-third. This is the same proportion to a capital of 200 yards, as one-fifth is to a capital of 400 yards. If the labour contributed one-fifth to the product of 550 yards, when aided by a capital of 400 yards, it contributes one-third, in the newly supposed case, when aided by a capital of 200 yards. One-third of 550 is 183 1/3; leaving to the capitalist 366 2/3, or a profit upon his capital of 83 1/3 per cent. According to the explanation, which we have already given and repeated, there is here an additional produce to each, by reason of the increase of productive power; and, also, which is only the same thing in other words, an augmented value in exchange. But in Mr. Ricardo’s sense of the word value, there is only the same value to each, so long as the proportions remain unchanged.
The cases which I have thus put for illustration, are cases in which the productive powers of labour and capital are augmented; but as the same reasonings apply,
mutatis mutandis, to the cases in which the productive powers are diminished, it is deemed unnecessary to lengthen this analysis by adducing them.
It may here be useful to the learner to look back, and ascertain the number and importance of the steps which he has advanced. He has discovered, what are the laws, according to which those commodities, which form the riches of nations, are produced; and what are the laws, according to which, when produced, they are distributed.
He has seen that there are two instruments of production; one primary, the other secondary: that labour is the primary instrument of production, and that, abstracted from those aids which it derives from capital, its productive powers are augmented chiefly by limiting the number of each man’s productive operations; in other words, by what has been called the division of labour: that capital is secondary to labour, not only because it is subsequent in order of time, but because it owes its existence to labour; because the first capital is the result of pure labour, and because that which is subsequently the result of labour and capital combined, may thence be resolved into labour, the ultimate principle of all production.
The learner has now also seen, that, what is produced, by the operations of labour and capital, divides itself, in the first instance, into three portions; the rent of land; the wages of labour; and the profits of stock. Till the laws were discovered, which determine the boundaries of these several portions, that which goes as rent, that which goes as profits, and that which goes as wages, almost all the conclusions of Political Economy were vague and uncertain. It has been seen, that rent is something which may be considered independent of the general result or the productive powers of labour and capital; that it is the result of a peculiar defect of the earth, which does not continue to yield its produce in equal abundance to successive portions of capital; and that it is the excess of what is yielded to the more productive portions, above what is equal to the produce of the least productive portion of capital employed upon the land. After the limits were thus fixed of this one of the three portions, into which the produce of industry divides itself, whence it appeared that what may be regarded as the genuine effect of labour and capital in co-operation is left to be divided between the labourer and the capitalist; it was easy for the learner to see, that, in respect to proportions, as what fell to the share of the one was increased, what went to the share of the other was diminished, and that in this sense, wages and profits depend on one another; that in respect, however, to the quantity of produce which these shares may contain, the productive power of the instruments of production is the determining cause.