A Treatise on Political Economy
By Jean-Baptiste Say
A NEW edition of this translation of the popular treatise of M. Say having been called for, the five previous American editions being entirely out of print, the editor has endeavoured to render the work more deserving of the favour it has received, by subjecting every part of it to a careful revision. As the translation of Mr. Prinsep was made in the year 1821, from an earlier edition of the original treatise, namely, the fourth, which had not received the last corrections and improvements of the author, wherever an essential principle had been involved in obscurity, or an error had crept in, which had been subsequently cleared up and removed, the American editor has, in this impression, reconciled the language of the text and notes to the fifth improved edition, published in 1826, the last which M. Say lived to give to the world. It has not, however, been deemed necessary to extend these alterations in the translation any further than to the correction of such discrepancies and errors as are here alluded to; and the editor has not ventured to recast the translation, as given by Mr. Prinsep, merely with a view to accommodate its phraseology, in point of neatness of expression or diction, to the last touches of the author. The translation of Mr. Prinsep, the editor must again be permitted to observe, has been executed with sufficient fidelity, and with considerable spirit and elegance; and in his opinion it could not be much improved by even remoulding it after the last edition. The translation of the introduction, given by the present editor, has received various verbal corrections; and such alterations and additions as were introduced by the author into his fifth edition, will now be found translated. [From the Advertisement to the 6th edition.]
C. R. Prinsep, trans. and Clement C. Biddle., ed.
First Pub. Date
Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.,
First written in French. 6th edition. Based on the 4th-5th editions.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Jean-Baptiste Say courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
OF WHAT IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD BY THE TERM, PRODUCTION.
OF THE PRODUCTION OF WEALTH.
If we take the pains to inquire what that is, which mankind in a social state of existence denominate wealth, we shall find the term employed to designate an indefinite quantity of objects bearing inherent value, as of land, of metal, of coin, of grain, of stuffs, of commodities of every description. When they further extend its signification to landed securities, bills, notes of hand, and the like, it is evidently because they contain obligations to deliver things possessed of inherent value. In point of fact, wealth can only exist where there are things possessed of real and intrinsic value.
Wealth is proportionate to the quantum of that value; great, when the aggregate of component value is great; small, when that aggregate is small.
The value of a specific article is always vague and arbitrary, so long as it remains unacknowledged. Its owner is not a jot the richer, by setting a higher ratio upon it in his own estimation. But the moment that other persons are willing, for the purpose of obtaining it, to give in exchange a certain quantity of other articles, likewise bearing value, the one may then be said to be worth, or to be of equal value with, the other.
The quantity of money, which is readily parted with to obtain a thing, is called its
price. Current price, at a given time and place, is that price which the owner is sure of obtaining for a thing, if he is inclined to part with it.
The knowledge of the real nature of wealth, thus defined, of the difficulties that must be surmounted in its attainment, of the course and order of its distribution amongst the members of society, of the uses to which it may be applied, and, further, of the consequences resulting respectively from these several circumstances, constitutes that branch of science now entitled Political Economy.
The value that mankind attach to objects originates in the use it can make of them. Some afford sustenance; others serve for clothing; some defend them from the inclemencies of the season, as houses; others gratify their taste, or, at all events, their vanity, both of which are species of wants: of this class are all mere ornaments and decorations. It is universally true, that, when men attribute value to any thing, it is in consideration of its useful properties; what is good for nothing they set no price upon.
*41 To this inherent fitness or capability of certain things to satisfy the various wants of mankind, I shall take leave to affix the name of utility. And I will go on to say, that, to create objects which have any kind of utility, is to create wealth; for the utility of things is the ground-work of their value, and their value constitutes wealth.
Objects, however, cannot be created by human means; nor is the mass of matter, of which this globe consists, capable of increase or diminution. All that man can do is, to re-produce existing materials under another form, which may give them an utility they did not before possess, or merely enlarge one they may have before presented. So that, in fact, there is a creation, not of matter, but of utility; and this I call
production of wealth.
In this sense, then, the word production must be understood in political economy, and throughout the whole course of the present work. Production is the creation, not of matter, but of utility. It is not to be estimated by the length, the bulk, or the weight of the product, but by the utility it presents.
Although price is the measure of the value of things, and their value the measure of their utility, it would be absurd to draw the inference, that, by forcibly raising their price, their utility can be augmented. Exchangeable value, or price, is an index of the recognised utility of a thing, so long only as human dealings are exempt from every influence but that of the identical utility: in like manner as a barometer denotes the weight of the atmosphere, only while the mercury is submitted to the exclusive action of atmospheric gravity.
In fact, when one man sells any product to another, he sells him the utility vested in that product; the buyer buys it only for the sake of its utility, of the use he can make of it. If, by any cause whatever, the buyer is obliged to pay more than the value to himself of that utility, he pays for value that has no existence, and consequently which he does not receive.
This is precisely the case, when authority grants to a particular class of merchants the exclusive privilege of carrying on a certain branch of trade, the India trade for instance; the price of Indian imports is thereby raised, without any accession to their utility or intrinsic value. This excess of price is nothing more or less than so much money transferred from the pockets of the consumers into those of the privileged traders, whereby the latter are enriched exactly as much as the former are unnecessarily impoverished. In like manner, when a government imposes on wine a tax, which raises to 15 cents the bottle what would otherwise be sold for 10 cents, what does it else, but transfer 5 cents per bottle from the hands of the producers or the consumers of wine to those of the tax-gatherer?
*43 The particular commodity is here only the means resorted to for getting at the tax-payer with more or less convenience; and its current value is composed of two ingredients,
viz. 1. Its real value originating in its utility: 2. The value of the tax that the government thinks fit to exact, for permitting its manufacture, transport, or consumption.
Wherefore, there is no actual production of wealth, without a creation or augmentation of utility. Let us see in what manner this utility is to be produced.
relative value are discussed in different parts of this work; particularly in the leading chapters of Book II. Not to perplex the attention of the reader, I confine myself here to so much as is absolutely necessary to comprehend the phenomenon of the production of wealth.
data of its reasonings; leaving to the moralist and the practical man, the several duties of enlightening and of guiding their fellow-creatures, as well in this, as in other particulars of human conduct.
Book I, Chapter II