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As the value of labour experiences a rise and fall perfectly similar to the rise and fall of the price of commodities; and as this variation in their respective values proceeds from the same cause, that is, from the proportion of the demand to their abundance or scarcity ; there is not any difference possible between the two values ; both are alike liable to vary, and consequently' both are al ike unfit to form an in variable measure of value.
Money, it is true, is said not to vary, although a larger or smaller quantity of money is given at liferent periods for a quarter of corn or a pine of wine, for this plain reason.
When more or less money is given at one time than at the other for a quarter of corn or a pipe of wine, and the same money is paid as usual for all other commodities, it is evident that, in that instance, it is the value of corn and wine that varies, because it is impossible that the value of money, not varving with regard to all other commodities, should vary with regard to corn and wine.
But wdien the value of monev varies with regard to all commodities, that is to sav, when a greater quantity than usual is given for a certain quantity of commodities, it is the value of money that varies.
This subject has been developed with the greatest perspicuity7 by one of the most distinguished modern Italian writers.
"Money," says this able author, who is too little known, t; has not absolute value; its value is always relative; a guinea is the value of a hat, as a hat is the value of a guinea.—But it ought to be remembered, that the relation between commodities and money may vary either through a change in the commodities or a change in the money. In the former case, the price of commodities is justly said to be altered; in the latter, the value of money is said to be altered. If newly introduced cloth-manufactures cause a greater quantity of woollen cloth to be purchased with the same quantity of money as before, whatever be the altered proportion of money to cloth, the value of cloth is justly said to be less. But if, on account of a greater quantity of money being thrown into circulation, it happens that all commodities fetch more money than fifty years before, money is justly said to be depreciated." *
The value of money therefore cannot vary, though more or less money is given than formerly for certain commodities ; its value experiences an actual variation only when more money than usual is paid for every commodity.
But the case is different with labour. Its value cannot vary, unless that of each commodity in particular and of the aggregate of all commodities and of money itself varies together with it. If the value of labour rise, it causes all other commodities and even money to sink in the same proportion, that is to say, that if a day's labour which was at 15^. rises a fifth, all commodities and money by which it is to be paid sink or are depreciated one fifth; or, in other words, it requires one fifth more of commodities or money to pay for a day's labour. The case is the same, if a day's labour sinks a fifth; commodities and money in
Jean Baptiste Vasco; Delia Moncta; Turin, 1787, 1788.
that case rise one fifth, or it takes one fifth of commodities or money less to pay for labour.
It is therefore evident, that as commodities and money are invariable and labour variable, it is the value of labour that varies, and not the v?Jue of commodities and money. Consequently, the value of labour varies like that of all other values, and labour is no more than any of them entitled to be considered as a general measure of value. *
Seduced by the opinion that objects have a real value independent of their being exchanged, of which value labour is the accurate measure, Adam Smith has successively extended this attribute to money in some cases, and corn in others, and thought, that wages of labour, money, and corn, are capable of pre~ serving values more or less intact in the midst of the changes, alterations, or modifications occasioned by time in all things. He says : " Stipulations to be paid in corn, in cases of long leases, reserved perpetual rents, or contracts of extensive and as it were unlimited duration, keep their value better than if the payments are stipulated to be in money;" and he supports his opinion by the experience of the last centuries. But I do not think it better founded on that account.
'* But it is on the ground of labour, or the produce of previous labour, being the only legal way of arriving at the possession of things of value, that labour may in some degree be considered as a general measure of exchangeable \alue, or as a standard by which the exchangeable value of all commodities may be determined.— Boilcuirs Introduction to the Study of Political Eco?iomy« book i. '.hap. 8, pages f>v2. 63.
When a proprietor quits his property against a reserved perpetual rent, or when he grants a long lease to a farmer against a fixed rent, he neither regards the real value of his property, as it has no such value, nor the value he is to enjoy at a future time, which is unknown. By what rule then does he fix the perpetual reserved rent, or the rent of a long lease? Simply by the exchangeable value of his property at the time it is sold or taken in farm upon a long lease, and by the opinion he has of the events by which its value may be modified during the duration of the reserved rent or of the long lease. He enters rather into a gambling contractthan a contract grounded upon equivalents. His efforts to balance, by the nature of the reserved rent or of the rent to be paid by his farmer, the risks which he runs, must always prove nugatory; because the obscurity in which futurity is involved is an impenetrable cloud to his interested views.
This profound obscurity can derive no light from the experience of the last centuries. The circumstance that feudal, perpetual, or quit-rents, stipulated to be paid in corn in the fifteenth century, have better kept their value than those that were stipulated to be paid in money, can afford no rule .of conduct for the future. The fact is owing to a particular event, which probably will not occur again, and from which no general and universal principle can of course be inferred.
Ever since social order has been consolidated, and since the mercantile system exercises a salutary influence over the political system, money has experienced greater variations than corn, because commerce and industry have introduced a quantity of money superior to the quantity of corn with which agriculture has been able to furnish commerce; and particularly because money, by being abundantly diffused among all the classes of the people, has conferred a greater exchangeable value upon corn; stipulations to be paid in corn must therefore have become more advantageous than stipulations to be paid in money.
But, if the military system had prevailed and concentrated all the precious metals in the metropolis and among a small number of individuals, would not the contrary have happened, and would not those stipulations to be paid in money, which are so detrimental to proprietors and creditors, and so profitable to farmers and debtors, have proved ruinous to the latter and favourable to the former? The stipulations to be paid in corn would have afforded results similar to those arising from stipulations to be paid in money.
Let us therefore conclude, that men are deluding themselves when they imagine they can subject futurity to steady and permanent laws, and imprint on their power, which is limited and circumscribed by the fluctuation of events, the immensity and immobility of eternity. Whatever efforts we may make, we shall never be able to extend our dominion beyond the present moment, or to give, during this short space of time, a fixed and steady value to things. That value is subject to the laws of exchanges, and to the proportion of the demand to the abundance or scarcity, which is always fluctuating, and which cannot be fixed nor sub.jected to steady and permanent rules.