« PoprzedniaDalej »
and under some of its most arbitrary governments, they order this matter better than we do.
But if the advocates of Free Trade, with Dr. Smith at their head, when they ventured on the educational and moral department of a nation's affairs, have reasoned ill against the encouragements of a bounty—they on certain other subjects, involving too the highest of our public interests, have reasoned equally ill against the laying on of prohibitions. We would just instance the question of a prohibitive tax on intoxicating liquors; or, which is a regulation of the same character, the exaction of a license so costly as greatly to limit and circumscribe their sale. This, too, is an infringement on the philosophy of Free Trade; and, as such, is resented by the indiscriminate idolaters of our modern liberalism, who would leave every thing to the operation of demand and supply, without once adverting to the question whether this demand be in defect or excess—so as to effect an under supply in the one case, and an over supply in the other. It is because of a defect in the taste or wish for learning, whether of a sacred or secular character, that Government should endow schools, and grant a bounty upon education, and this to save the result of a commonalty brutalized by ignorance. And it is because of an excess in the taste or demand for spirituous liquors, that Government should limit their consumption to the uttermost, by a tax on the commodity or otherwise, and so lay the heaviest possible restriction on this branch of trade—and this to save the result of a commonalty brutalized by low and loathsome dissipation. It is even with us a grave consideration, whether the same principle does not apply to the reforms of Lord Ashley on the employment of factory children, though this involves à restraint on personal as well as commercial freedom. If the worshippers of Free Trade, by following out their principle, shall land us in a corrupt population-then are the best objects of a wise and virtuous legislation made a sacrifice of to the magic and mockery of a name.
But, returning to ground more properly and exclusively economical, let us instance another example of the false conclusions, into which political economists have been betrayed by delivering themselves up to their own processes of excogitation-after they had laid, as they thought, a sufficient basis for all their subsequent reasonings on a few first principles, which they gave forth as the undoubted axioms or definitions of their science. This might do, and has done most triumphantly and incontrovertibly, in Mathematics, but it will not do in Political Economy. In so many primary and fundamental truisms, which carry the instant acquiescence of every mind, there lie enveloped all the proposi
tions of geometry; and these can be extracted by reasoning alone from the rudimental elements of the science. But if the disciples of Political Economy shall prematurely attempt a similar method of development with their science, they will infallibly go astray. And as an example of it, we appeal to the inveterate notion which still prevails among them, of capital, as if it admitted of progressive enlargement without limit and without termination. The same was the prevalent idea on the subject of population, till within the present century; and the same is still the prevalent idea on the subject of capital. We have seen the calculation of a penny laid out on compound interest at the commencement of our era; and the result was a sum equal in value to so many thousand globes of solid gold, each equal in magnitude to our earth. The mathematical reasoning on the subject of interest, and its successive additions to the principal sum, was unexceptionable; and the economical reasoning on the subject of profits, and their successive additions to the original capital, has been conducted in such a style of confidence by many of our most celebrated authors, as if they deemed it to be alike. unexceptionable. But the truth is, that capital has its limits just as population has—the one as effectually restrained by the difficulty of finding a profitable investiture, as the other is restrained by the difficulty of finding subsistence; and thus either expenditure or bankruptcy is just as requisite, whether to prevent or correct the redundancy of capital, as disease or the providential check is requisite, whether to correct or to prevent the redundancy of population. The right application of this doctrine would lead to a wholly different set of lessons on the subject of capital from what are commonly given forth; and more especially would it be found, that the unlimited parsimony of Dr. Smith is not just the specific for a nation's sure and ever increasing prosperity which he conceived it to be.
And there is another doctrine of his which requires to be greatly modified, ere it can be admitted to a place among the undoubted verities of the science. It relates to the condition of the working classes, as if this were absolutely and helplessly dependent on the economic state of society,—that their condition is prosperous when society is making progress in wealth, dull when stationary, and miserable when on the decline. We believe it will be found of any country where order and good government prevail, that there is a sure progress in wealth so long as there is much land that remains to be more productively cultivated than before, as in the United States of America—that the wealth becomes more stationary when it touches upon the extreme limit of cultivation, as perhaps in Holland and China
more nearly than in most other lands; and that the decline again is experienced only in those towns or smaller states, where the commerce, from some cause or other, has received a check, and there are no agricultural resources to fall back upon, as would take place in Hamburgh, did an unfavourable shift occur in the direction of trade, and as has taken place in the northern states of Italy. Now it is undoubted, that, in the last of these stages, the people at large would share in the general distress; and we should behold the melancholy spectacle of a starving commonalty, so long as emigration and disease, and the
preventive check, had not reduced the population to their now narrower means of subsistence and employment. But with the exception of this last temporary and occasional state of things, occurring only in limited and special localities, there is no fear of that general wretchedness throughout the great bulk and body of the people, which Smith apprehended, and which the formulæ of Ricardo on the subject of profit and wages have led him to predict, as the infallible consequence of our agriculture descending to the poorest soils, and brought down at length to the lowest possible extreme of cultivation. The doctrine of Malthus, unknown to Smith, and from which Ricardo failed to take the lesson which would have refuted his anticipations, leads to a different conclusion from that of both these economists,-even that in all states of society, with the exception now specified, the people, save in years of scarcity, have very much their own comfort in their own hands. For in truth, the proportion that wages shall bear to rent and profits, which have been denominated the other two ingredients of value, is mainly dependent on the habit and character of the people themselves. So long as we have a thriftless and improvident commonalty, a low wage will be the inevitable consequence, save in extraordinary seasons of demand for labour, as in the present urgency and fever of railway speculation, or save in a sudden enlargement of the first necessaries of life, as many anticipate, though it be very doubtful, from the repeal of our corn laws. But with such brief and incidental exceptions as these, a high wage is only to be looked for as the product of a more virtuous and intelligent population. Had we a better conducted, we should soon have a better conditioned peasantry than now. Would they but refrain their dissipations and lay up in good times, it would tell, and tell instantly, not only in raising, but permanently sustaining the price of work, so that our present oppressed and overborne workmen might both have less to do, and get more for the doing of it. Could we only get them to accumulate each a small capital, though only to the extent of a month's provisions, and this not for trading, but simply as a barrier in the way of instant starvation, it
is not to be told how beneficially this would affect the labour market in favour of the working classes.* The likelihood of such a result may at present be very distant and unpromising ; and indeed will never be realised till the education of knowledge, but still more the education of principle, be far more largely provided for, and made to operate throughout the masses. Still we cannot but rejoice at the prospect of that economic prosperity which awaits our common people, as the sure result of their moral elevation. Those economists who overlook, and still more who undervalue the dependence of the economical on the moral, take but a limited and imperfect view even of their own science; and the statesmen who are misled by them, look altogether in the wrong direction, when they are taught to confide in Free Trade, or Home Colonization, or a well regulated Poor Rate, or a larger Emigration, or indeed on any merely secular and economic expedient whatever, as their specific, their grand panacea, for the amelioration of the humbler classes of society.
But we must be done with these examples; and, out of the many additional which can be selected, shall only touch on one more—Dr. Smith's definition of a productive labourer, and the consequent distinction which he makes between him and the unproductive labourer—the one employing his labour on a tangible commodity, and so impressing on it a greater marketable value than before, the other labouring, too, and perhaps for a good purpose, but not so as to make any addition to the exchangeable value of the country's produce. According to this definition, the maker of a musical instrument is a productive labourer, but the performer on that instrument, and without whose service it would be of no use whatever, is an unproductive labourer. The apothecary who manufactures pills is productive, the physician who prescribes the pills is unproductive. It is true that both may contribute to the production of health ; but the health is not like the medicine, a tangible commodity which can be carried to a market, and made the subject of a negotiation there, and so the medicine is the all in all—the health or terminus ad quem of the medicine goes for nothing in the estimation of many an economist. Such is the doctrine; and it may be said in vindication of it, that it is strictly in keeping with the definition. And so it is : but the definition should be mended rather than that the science should be suffered to run into paradoxes, or, what is worse, than that the wealth of nations should be só represented and reasoned on as to pervert and vitiate the policy of nations.
* On this subject see our former article in this Journal on Savings Banks.
But we must not detain ourselves longer from the consideration of a book that is wholly taken up, not with the applications, but with the elementary and abstract principles of the science, made up of argumentations presented to us in a strictly mathematical form, and beginning with propositions which have in them all the simplicity of axioms. And in passing onward from these, we feel as if we were still treading on what may be termed an axiomatic pathway, or along a series of transitions from the obvious premiss to its no less obvious and undeniable conclusion; or, as some impatient readers might say, in a succession of truismswhich thing the rapidly intuitive Charles Fox once said of Dr. Smith, when he complained of many of his reasonings, that their simplicity was so extreme as to make them absolutely puerile; and he added, that they often ended in a most unmeaning result. In this last part of his criticism he was undoubtedly wrong; and we mention this the rather, that the reader is in danger of falling into a kindred error, when pronouncing on the merits of the volume before us. It is true that it proceeds but a little way, and stops short, as if satisfied with the establishment of two or three brief and comprehensive generalities in the science; but these so pregnant withal of meaning and inference, that, if stated differently, they might transform, or, if stated wrong, they might vitiate and falsify the whole subject. We must not underrate the service of him who furnishes the reader or the reasoner with a clear and a right outset from which to take his departure, when he enters on the field of multifarious doctrine which lies before him. The author or guide whom he follows may scarcely have conducted him beyond the vestibule; but still has conferred on him a mighty benefit
, if he have pointed out or led him by the right vestibule, and more especially if others before him have misled their disciples by a wrong entry into some bye labyrinth, from which, in endless mazes lost, they find all extrication impossible. To estimate aright the good done for a science by the rectification of its first elements, let us only imagine that some radical flaw had crept unseen into those axioms or definitions of Euclid which form the basis of geometry, contaminating the whole stream of its subsequent demonstrations, and causing that the science shall be wrong throughout because wrong radically. To detect and expose this fundamental error, discharging it from the science and substituting the true principle in its place, were surely a vital service of the very highest order. It is an achievement altogether similar to this, when the authority of a reigning school in whatever science is overthrown by the exposure of a latent error in its first principles. It remains to be seen in how far this high service has been effected by the author whom we should before this time have introduced to the notice of our