« ForrigeFortsett »
change with the produce of all countries, it has no longer any influence upon wealth but with regard to its distribution and consumption.
The national produce is distributed to the landowners in the shape of rents, to the capitalits as profits of stock, and to all those who participate directly or indirectly in labour in the shape of wages.
This distribution is more or less favourable to the progress of public and private wealth, according as stipulations in all private contracts are more or less free, and more or less faithfully performed. All measures that alter the direction of this distribution, that infringe upon its natural proportions, that, either directly or indirectly, raise or lower the rent of land, the profits of stock, and the wages of labour, oppose more or less obstacles to wealth, and may even prove absolutely fatal to its existence.
Independently of the distribution of the produce of labour to the land-owners, the capitalists, and the labourers, a certain portion must be taken from this produce for government and the servants of the state; which portion also has a great influence upon wealth. I have developed its principles, its effects, and its results, in my work on the Public Revenue. *
The consumption of the produce allotted to each individual by the rents of land, the profits of stock, and the wages of labour, is subject to two laws, which
* Should the present work on the various systems of political economy be favourably received in its English dress, no exertion shall be spared to procure the Essay on the Public Revenue which is here alluded to, and to give a faithful translation of it.-T.
are still controverted, but the wisdom and utility of which are obvious.
1. The consumption of the annual produce must be inferior to the total quantity of that produce. Economy ought to save part of it for the support and increase of capital stock, for unforeseen wants, for a progressive population. This saving acts as a safe. guard against the blasts of fortune, and is a certain pledge of grandeur and prosperty.
To suppose, with some authors, that consumption is the measure of production, is a fallacy. Undoubtedly, whatever is not consumed, is not re-produced: but all that is consumed, is not always re-produced. If to produce, it were enough to consume, wealth would be the lot of all men and of all nations ; for all have the power, and, most assuredly, the will to consume: but as no one can consume any commodity without giving an equivalent for it to the producer, it follows evidently that consumption is re-produced only up to the equivalent which it leaves behind ; it therefore is not the necessary and absolute law of production, it is only its uncertain and indeterminate cause, against which there is no possibility of guarding but by limiting and restricting it below production.
This restriction is not so difficult as is commonly supposed; it takes place of itself, and by the sole force of things. Hence luxury, that subject of so many moral, political, and economical contentions, has so little importance in the economical system of modern nations.
In this system, the laborious classes cannot maintain themselves without re-producing the equivalent of their consumption; they consequently cannot addict themselves to luxury without endangering their existence; and the magnitude of the danger prevents their exposing themselves to it.
The classes that live upon the rents of land and profits of stock cannot easily be ruined by luxury; its greatest excesses attack only a few private fortunes, and give little concern to national wealth ; luxury may even, in some degree, be favourable to national wealth, because it encourages the labouring classes, by increasing their means of labour, economy, and fortune; by admitting them to share in the profits of stock and rents of land, and by affording them an opportunity to rise into the rich and idle classes. This mixture of classes is perhaps not advantageous to certain political systems. Aristocratical states and even some monarchical governments may feel its dangerous effects, and be shaken by it: of this, modern history affords more than one instance; but wealth is no sufferer by it, on the contrary, it may even derive great advantages from such a mixture. It would be interesting to investigate, whether aristocratical and certain monarchical states can do without wealth, resist its influence, or turn it to their safety : but it would require a volume to do justice to the inquiry; and I have but a few lines to add to my
observations on the theory of wealth.
But although the consumption of the produce allotted to private individuals is of little consequence to wealth, the case is not the same with regard to that portion of produce which constitutes the public reve
nue. As it is taken from private income, and almost entirely consumed without leaving any equivalent after its consumption, it must be proportioned to the surplus of produce left to individuals after their necessary and indispensable consumption; otherwise it would exhaust private savings, arrest the progressive increase of capitals, render wealth stationary, and perhaps occasion its decline and ruin.
As long as the consumption of public and private revenue does not absorb the totality of the produce of general labour, wealth is progressive, nations prosper, and empires are advancing to the highest degree of power and splendour.
2. Consumption is more or less useful to the progress of wealth, according as it is directed to solid and lasting enjoyments, or to caprices and fancies, which leave no value behind. When, in seeking for the pleasures of life, men have a taste for conveniencies and comforts, consumption conveys even to the abodes of mediocrity the advantages and enjoyments of opulence; the garments and household furniture which have served the rich, serve again the less fortunate classes ; and the enjoyments of wealth are, as it were, communicated to the whole nation. How far it is possible to inspire a nation with that desirable disposition, is not easily ascertained; but nothing can more powerfully contribute to it, than the encouragement given to manufactures more useful than elegant, more within the reach of the multitude than reserved for the opulent classes, more calculated for the wants of all than for the fancy of a few. As wealth is created through the labour of the multitude
it also derives its greatest means of increase from the conveniencies, from the pleasures, and even from the enjoyments of the multitude.
In the economical system of modern nations, general labour is the spring of wealth, and general economy is the only way of increasing the funds and the resources of labour, of developing its powers; its faculties, and its genius, and of giving it a constant and unlimited progression. The general interchange of the produce of labour, by affording to the labouring classes new, varied, and inexhaustible enjoyments, stimulates their activity, excites their industry, encourages their efforts, and raises their efforts to the highest degree of energy and intensity ; and the extent of a more or less beneficial consumption of the totality of productions extends or narrows the bounds of wealth and opulence.
Wealth, in the modern system of political economy, is the work of all men, of all nations, and, as it were, of the whole human race; the reward of all individual efforts, and the end of private and general ambition. When all are rushing to the same end, the rights of all are respected, the interests of all attended to, and the conveniencies of all consulted. All advance by the side of each other without elbowing, without injuring, without crushing each other. All are benefited by their reciprocal efforts, and all owe their successes to their general co-operation. To this admirable system civilization is indebted for its progress; and when better understood, it will prove its most vigilant safeguard and its firmest support.