« ForrigeFortsett »
sion, is but a trifling drawback on the great advantages a country derives, not only from the ingenuity of man in supplanting labour by machinery, but from capital laid out in roads, canals, bridges, inclosures, shipping, and employed in the conduct of home and foreign trade.” + The sentiments of Cantillon and David Hume on this subject ought therefore not to arrest our attention any longer. But Dr. Quesnay has started a singular opinion. He not only is not afraid of the augmentation of the wages of labour raising the prices of productions and injuring their sale; but he even wishes to persuade us that the low price of labour, which sinks the exchangeable value of commodities, renders the trade with a foreign country less profitable. “The national income,” says he, “is always greater in proportion as the exchangeable value of commodities is high. Abundance and dearness are opulence.” + This doctrine is absolutely contrary to the elementary notions of political economy. If man's propensity totruck and barter, or rather his desire of enjoyment and happiness, promotes the circulation of the produce of labour, it must be more active when the number of those who have any thing to exchange is considerable, and when the objects to be exchanged are in great quantity and variety; when the commodities to be exchanged originally cost little, and when their price is within the teach of a larger number of consumers; or, in other
* The Earl of Lauderdale's Inquiry, chap. v. page 299. + Physiocratic, Max. 18, page 116. f
words, the cheaper commodities are, the more consumers do they find, the less precarious is their sale, and the more profitable are their returns. Mr. Say has expressed this truth by an image of great brilliancy and admirable correctness.
“ Consumption, " he says, “resembles a huge pyramid; the breadth of the pyramid represents the number of consumers, or the extent of the demand ; and its height, the price of the commodity : the higher the price, the smaller the breadth; that is, the demand. Sometimes the natural price of certain commodities rises higher than the pyramid; that is, to a height where there is no demand ; such commodities are no longer produced.” * If such be the ultimate result of the high price of labour, (and the fact is certain,) it is evident that opulence does not consist in abundance and dearness, which are incompatible; but in abundance and cheapness, which always harmonize. In short, nations are so much the richer, as commodities are in greater plenty and at lower prices; and by a consequence equally infallible, their commerce is so much the more profitable, as the productions of their labour are cheap. What then ought nations to do that are poor, or inferior in wealth, and do not derive from the general circulation of the produce of their labour the same profits as rich nations 2 Must they insulate themselves, multiply customhouses and prohibitions, and refuse to communicate with richer nations:
* Traité d’Economie Positique. loor Ša v. oneč. ii. page 72.
. The best-guarded toll-bars are generally powerless
sive, than to acquire the foreign commodities by an interchange of mational productions. Commerce preserves to every country her advantage in the kind of industry for which she is peculiarly fit, and allows that industry to be improved by a concentration of capital; whilst the attempt to rival foreign industry in every particular, and to do without foreign produce, weakens and splits its capitals, hurts national industry, impedes its productiveness, stints its growth, and converts its ramifications into as many parasite branches which unprofitably suck the sap of the tree and remain barren twigs. Left without rivals, without competition, and abandoned to its own impulse, national industry painfully drags along in the beaten tract, it derives no benefit from the progress of general industry, and without having decayed, experiences a fatal decline. Such is the ultimate fate of every nation that disdains foreign &ommerce, and fancies it can exist without any intercourse with other nations, or at least that deems itself so much the richer as its exterior communications are few, and as it has more internal means to supply its wants. It stops the progress of wealth, condemns itself to everlasting mediocrity, and obstructs the grandeur of its destiny. - . There is however, it must be confessed, one peculiar case in which a nation ought to renounce all intercourse with other nations; this is, when its government is so bad, that it strips it of all means to rival other nations in any production and in any branch of industry whatever. Such a nation is forced to renounce general commerce, otherwise its resources
would soon be exhausted, it would become tributary to nations that are better governed, and never could shake off its dependence. Nations smarting under a bad government would labour for those which enjoy a good administration, and the latter would enrich themselves with the sweat of their brows: sad and deplorable result, which teaches the depositaries of the fate of nations the necessity of attentively studying the causes of their prosperity, which is the basis of political power. Adam Smith states three other cases in which nations ought to restrain the circulation of the produce of general labour. The first is, when the safety of the country is concerned ; which was, says he, the case with England when her act of Navigation was framed ; “ an act prejudicial to the growth of wealth : but as defence is of much more importance than opulence, the act of Navigation is, perhaps, the wisest of all the commercial regulations of England.” This manner of viewing the English act of Navigation betrays in the author a greater attachment to his country than to truth. Before this act of Navigation, the Dutch had the greatest share in the maritime commerce of the world, and were indebted to their trade for a formidable navy and immense riches. But whatever might have been their power in both these respects, it could not threaten the safety of England ; and it cannot be supposed that
* Wealth of Nations; London, 1805; vol. ii. book iv. chap. 2, page 203.