Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

modern writer, to suppose “ that it is as easy to produce as to consume;” that the powers of labour are inexhaustible, and its produce unlimited. Such a monstrous doctrine could proceed only from absolute ignorance of the causes of the formation and preservation of wealth ; which ignorance ought to be completely dispelled by the progress of political economy, and the propagation of its salutary and conservatory tenets. Individuals and nations cannot possibly consume more than their income without exposing themselves to certain ruin; they ought not even to consume as much as their income. Whenever they do so, their condition becomes precarious, and national wealth is endangered by the many accidents of life, national calamities, and all the evils which are continually assailing the human race. Every national calamity inflicts an injury upon capital, affects labour, diminishes its produce, impoverishes the nation, and, in proportion as it is serious and lasting, influences its power and the grandeur of its destinies. A distinction ought however again to be made between individuals and the state. Although the expenditure of individuals should fully absorb their income, it not only is not prejudicial to national wealth, but may even contribute to its increase. The desire of comforts, the relish of enjoyments, and the love of pleasure, are powerful incitements to labour, and induce the labourer to multiply the produce of his labour; and in that case it may truly be affirmed, that he labours more in pro

portion as he consumes more, and that he is so much the richer, as his expences are more considerable. In this instance, those few economical and moral writers are perfectly right, who praise luxury, and attribute to it a large share in the increase of modern wealth, and even in the civilization of individuals and nations. A modern French writer opposes this system, and asserts that consumption is not a cause, but an effect; that, in order to consume, it is necessary to purchase; and that people purchase but with what they have produced *. This opinion, if it were correct, would completely overthrow the mercantile system, which this author has however praised and cztolled throughout his work. We must therefore regard it as a mere mistake proceeding from imattention. Yet it must be refuted, because it attacks the fundamental principles of the science. The mercantile system rests on the interchange of the produce of general labour; but the progress of this interchange would have been slow and perhaps even uncertain, if it had always been considered as necessary that the exchanged produce should really exist at the time of the exchange, and if people could have procured what they had not, merely with what they had. But through a combination peculiar to the mercantile system, people obtain what they have not, with the mere promise of furnishing another produce not yet existing. The simple promise of giving a commodity at some future time is equivalent to the actual delivery; hope is invested with all the prerogatives of reality; and, what is not one of the least remarkable phenomenons of this system, hope is not deceived, and the promised commodity is generally produced, because it has been promised. Strip the mercantile system of credit, enforce the actual realization of every purchase and sale, and, from that instant, more than half of the produce of labour will remain on hands without finding a consumer; from that instant, more than half of the labourers will starve, and the annual produce will be diminished by half. The same author adds, in support of his opinion, that the best way of opening markets to the existing produce is to multiply and not to destroy them. This pompous paradox gives to political economy a mysterious and transcendent appearance little calculated to gain it friends among men of intellect, or to place it within the reach of attentive and studious inquirers. He who wants to consume the commodity produced by another, must undoubtedly give an equivalent for it; he does not obtain it for nothing. But must he have that equivalent ready, when he demands or gets the commodity of another; or, to use the very words of the author whom I am refuting, “ is the quantity of the commodities demanded, determined by the quantity of commodities in existence " Undoubtedly not. The quantity of the produce in request may just as well be determined by the quantity of commodities which are expected and intended to be produced; and provided their production takes place at

* Jean baptiste de Say; Traité d’Econ. Pol. Paris, 1803.

G G 2

the appointed time, the interchange is as perfect as if the objects produced after the exchange had existed at the instant when the exchange took place. When a manufacturer employs one thousand pounds in the establishment of his manufacture; when a merchant purchases goods to the amount of ten thousand pounds; when a ship-owner loads his vessel with merchandize amounting to twenty thousand pounds in value; every one of them perhaps has not effects amounting to the tenth part of the commodities entrusted to him, and which he may consume or dissipate at his pleasure; and yet, if the proceeds of the manufacture, of the trade, and of the venture, produce the equivalent of the values consumed, the result is precisely the same as if the commodities produced after the exchange had existed at the time of the exchange. Should it be objected that the manufacturer, the merchant, and the ship-owner, are not consumers, but mediators between the producer and the consumer, and that the interchange of which they are the agents is only completed by the return of the equivalents of the commodities exchanged; I observe that frequently these equivalents arrive but six months, twelve months, or two and sometimes three years, after the consumption; often even the commodities consumed have served to produce their equivalent, and had they not been advanced, the equivalent would never have existed. There is therefore no necessity that the quantity of commodities in request be equal to the quantity of commodities actually produced. It is almost always proportioned to the quantity of produce expected, and provided this cxpectation be not disappointed, (and in general it is not disappointed,) wealth proceeds as rapidly and as safely in its growth, as if the quantity of commodities in request were equal to the quantity of cornmodities in existence.

But if individuals may consume not only up to their actual income, but even up to that which they may obtain through additional labour, the case is not the same with government. When its expenditure, collectively with that of the nation, equals or exceeds the produce of general labour, all the calamities may be dreaded which result from the equality of consumption with production, and, above all, from the excess of consumption above production. Whatever be the authority of government, whatever be the attachment of the nation to its government, and whatever plans may be devised, it is not absolutely certain that the contributors to the public expences will proportion their efforts to the magnitude of the burthen, that the produce will be equal to the increased consumption, that the balance will be in favour of the produce, or even that the equilibrium will be restored by additional labour or more economy. It is to be feared, on the contrary, that excessive contributions will discourage the contributors, and that they will labour less in proportion as they have more to pay. In short, wealth in this critical situation runs so much greater risks, as the evil is certain and the remedy unknown,

« ForrigeFortsett »