« ForrigeFortsett »
in foreign commerce, and in the abundance of gold and silver, which are to be obtained only by commerce ; people yet could not perceive how a good metallic currency increases and preserves wealth.
In the midst of this general disposition of men's minds, a writer, remarkable for his knowledge, information, and talents, gave them a fresh impulse by starting the most whimsical and revolting paradox. Melon pretended “ that the weight and fineness of
money ought to be exclusively attended to, and « not its current value, which is indifferent, and " which, having been raised from one to above six"ty, without injuring commerce and finances, could “never be prejudicial to either.”
This assertion was completely destructive of the mercantile system, since it debased their gold and silver currency, and afforded the means of increasing it by augmenting its numeric value. Hence it excited a lively controversy between the French and Italian writers. Dutot in France, * and the Italian authors quoted above, proved to demonstration that a metallic currency facilitates exchanges merely on account of the value of the metals of which it is composed, and up to that value only ; and that, whenever this fundamental principle of circulation is lost sight of, considerable losses accrue to individuals and to the state..
The result of this discussion, as generally happens in almost all controversies, proved very different from
Réflexions Politiques sur les Finances.
that which was expected. It was inferred, that gold ' and silver, which, till then, had been considered as
true wealth, are only the instruments of its circulation; and this view of the subject gave birth to fresh inquiries into the nature of wealth.*
Dr. Quesnay in particular acquired great celebrity by the new and transcendant views of his Theory of the Sources of Wealth.
He does not place the source of wealth in commerce, because all its operations are limited to the conveyance of the produce of the soil and industry from one place to the other.
Neither can industry aspire to this eminent prerogative; because it only transforms the territorial produce into different shapes, without adding any thing to its quantity; and because its productions are only the material representatives of the produce of the soil which the manufacturer has employed or consumed.
Land alone is the true source of wealth; because it produces every thing that man desires for the
supply of his wants, for his enjoyments, his pleasures, and his fancies ; and because it constantly re-produces a quantity superior to what has been consumed to effect its re-production. This excess of re-production, this gratuitous gift of the soil, this net produce, is the only fund that can be employed to encourage the progress of labour, to reward its success, to promote improvements, and indefinitely to increase the sum of public and private wealth.
* La Moneta non è Richezza, ma imagine sua ed Istrumento di rag: girarla. Galiani della Moneta.
Agricultural labour, by a necessary consequence, is the only productive one; all other labours are barren and unproductive.
By another consequence pot less just, the surplus of the produce of the soil above all expences to obtain it, being a gratuitous gift of the land, ought to belong to the land-owners; they alone can distribute it to the other classes of the community; which circumstance gives them the character of paymasters, and to those who receive it the character of mercenaries.
On this respective paying and being paid, the economists built the relative rights of governors and governed. They asserted, that the land owners, as paying, ought alone to share in the government; and that all those who are paid, cannot take any part in it without an evident and manifest usurpation. And, finally, Dr. Quesnay maintained that, the net produce being the sole disposable wealth, the public revenue can only be derived from part of this produce; that the act of sharing in the net produce renders government a co-proprietor of the soil; and that this co-propriety constitutes its right to government; which right is limited by its co-proprietors.
This doctrine caused a strong sensation. It presented an idea simple and easy to comprehend ; flattered the pride of the land-owners, that important class entitled to so much regard and consideration; and had a tendency to mitigate the lot of the husbandmen, the most numerous and undoubtedly the most wretched portion of inhabitants in every country and under all governments; yet its success was not equal to its brilliant fame. With the exception of two authors who
attempted to propagate it in Italy, * all those who at that time wrote on subjects connected with political economy in England and Italy, continued more or less attached to the system of foreign commerce.
Sir James Steuart, in England, published in an extensive work, a complete theory of the mercantile system; and, as if he had wished to oppose it to the theory of the French economists, he distinguished two sorts of agriculture, one abusive, or useless, which provides only for the maintenance of the husbandmen, and is of no benefit to the community ; the other useful, which produces not only the subsistence of the husbandmen, but also that of all other classes of the community, and which he calls commercial agriculture.
But it was particularly in Italy that the mercantile system met with eloquent and celebrated panegyrists ; Genovesi, Beccaria, Carli, Verri, made wealth depend on the unlimited liberty of foreign commerce, and triumphantly refuted the system of the French'economists. At that time the Italians infinitely surpassed the rest of Europe in the science of political economy; they kept this superiority until Adam Smith inquired into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, and combating the mercantile and agricultural system with weapons equally formidable, assigned other
* Discorso Economico dall' Archid. Bandini. Paoletti dell' Annona.
† Sir James Steuart's Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy. 1760. book i. ch. 14.
I. In 1776.
principles to political economy, and was, as it were, the creator of the science. But it must be owned, that this justly celebrated writer, by not separating the controversial from the dogmatical part, has rendered his work rather diffuse and obscure ; and that it is sometimes difficult to discover his precise tenets on the sources of wealth.*
A modern English author (the Earl of Lauderdale) has even asserted that Adam Smith had no fixed opinion on that important point. The noble lord grounds this strange assertion upon several passagest extracted from the work of that celebrated writer.
Indeed Adam Smith in one place states, that “the "annual labour of every nation is the fund which
originally supplies it with all the necessaries and
conveniences of life, which it annually consumes, “and which consist always either in the immediate
produce of that labour, or in what is purchased " with that produce from other nations.”
Elsewhere.—“Lands, mines, and fisheries,” are
* The circumstance, that the valuable treatise of Adam Smith is incumbered with highly important, but perhaps too extensive and rather misplaced digressive accompaniments, has led many students of political economy to wish for a more easy access to the science, and produced several elementary works in France and Germany. It was also with the view to smooth the approach to the science, that I discussed the elements of political economy in regular order and succinct language, in An Introduction to the study of Political Economy, published by Cadell and Davies, Strand ; 1811.-T.
+ Earl of Lauderdale's Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth. Edin, 1804. p. 116.
| Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, cleventh edition. London, 1805. Vol. i. page 1.